God does not exist!

Every time I go to the supermarket there is a guy selling socks in the parking lot. It’s not always the same guy, but he always says the same thing: “Hello, my friend…” and then elicits handouts with a combination of smiles, hand gestures and appeals to the goodness of god.

Sometimes I give him spare change. Once I gave him a banana, for which he seemed grateful. I’m sorry for his predicament (he’s likely a refugee from a war-torn place), but I try not to let myself become an easy target for people begging for money, either. Maybe this is a holdover from my New York days.

Today we had a brief conversation. It went like this: “Hello, my friend!”

“Hey.”

“Ah, god is good, is he not?”

“No, he’s not. You should thank people who have helped you out, not god.”

“But doesn’t god help you, my friend?”

“He’s never done anything for me.”

“Why don’t you believe in god?” he asked.

“Because he doesn’t exist!” I said gleefully. I made sure to smile, too, so he could be sure that he was speaking to a happy atheist. (Maybe secretly I was hoping he’d take a swipe at me. To his credit, he didn’t.) Then we got in the car and drove off.

Later, I asked my wife if I’d been too hard on the man. She replied that he came from Africa and had seen who knows what horrors before embarking for Europe. He may have lost his family and possessions along the way. He’d probably come from a country where life was hell, and seen things that would make us shudder. My little quip wasn’t going to cause a breakdown in him.

Fair enough. I wasn’t going for that, anyway. I was just expressing mild outrage at the idea of a person who depends upon the kindness of strangers but can’t thank them directly. Instead, he thanks “god” – the same all powerful god, no doubt, who surveys his perpetually war-trashed African homeland with such an approving grin.

You can’t have one without the other, can you?

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Bertrand Russell on God

Lest you think Christopher Hitchens is among the first to ruffle feathers, take a look at this video (from 1959!) of Bertrand Russell. You might recognize him as the author of History of Western Philosophy, Why I Am not a Christian, In Praise of Idleness, and What I Believe (one of 25 books I actually read last year).

ps…thanks Pharyngula!

A Few Thoughts About Jewishness

Being Jewish is odd at times. For instance, one can be a BuJew (Buddhist-Jew), but a Jew for Jesus is out. Once there were Muslim Jews, but they were anomalous and eventually absorbed by Islam. The first Christians were all Jews, but then there was the decisive split and they went their separate ways.

But can one be a Muslim Christian, or a Hindu Muslim? I think as far as Abrahamic faiths go, at least, you can’t be two things at once. How about a Jewish-Christian-Muslim? “Y’know, I think they all had it right!” What a felicitous thought.

One factor that appears unique to Jewishness is the Jews-as-a-people/ Jews-as-a-faith paradigm. This is confusing not least of all to Jews. I don’t believe in YHWH, God, or supernatural authority in any guise, yet I am still Jewish. I find no contradiction there, though perhaps if all Jews were atheists Jews would eventually disappear. But one cannot force oneself to believe what one doesn’t believe simply because it may be a “historically conscious” choice. What to do?

Each must in the end follow his or her own conscience. The memes will take care of the rest.

A Rational, Scientific God?

Hardly.

There has been a wave of  books lately intent on neutralizing the “Dawkins effect”. They are invariably books with titles like “There Is Not a God” or “God: the Proof“. At times they are written by men (why only men?) who present themselves as lifetime atheists–militant is the preferred modifier–men who suddenly stumbled upon the error of their ways and embraced, well…Jesus. Their genius is that their atheistic error is a logical error, which they put invariably in philosophical terms. It is not an error of faith, which few people would take seriously as an attempt to overturn an arch-rationalist like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Because the debate over God needs to present itself in ultra-modern garb in order to separate itself from “fundamentalism”–or unequivocal, unvarnished (and untested) faith.

So these new men of faith put their faith up against the modern arsenal of logical debate. Could Jesus have been born of a virgin? Could he have risen from the dead? Could he return, even after a disappearance of such length? They put these age-old theological questions to the scientific test. Frank Tipler, a physicist, even wrote a book called The Physics of Christianity which asks these very same questions (and concludes that, according to the universal laws of physics, the answer is a resounding yes). Conclusion? Even Richard Dawkins should conclude that–from a rational, scientific approach to the question–God not only exists, but Jesus is God and Christianity is truth.

So with this in mind, I want to bookmark two new books that I will probably never get around to reading. But you should.

p.s…In an attempt to be fair-minded, some readers have misconstrued my position as being favorable to the Tiplers and contrary to the Dawkinses. Let be me clear:  this is not the case!

Chain Mail

We call them chain letters. In Italy they’re referred to as “St. Anthony’s letters”, and I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation as to why (but I don’t know it). They arrive at your inbox, usually with a subject like, “URGENT: READ AND PASS ON” or “THIS EMAIL WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.” Then there is the ubiquitous promise that if you send said message to five ten twenty-five fifty people, good fortune will befall you. Or at least you will have a nice day.

Today’s message reads, “The most beautiful email you will ever read.” Then it goes on to postulate a very probable situation: you are driving home in your car. On the radio you hear of a death on the other side of the world, but you think nothing of it. The next day you hear of more deaths, still far away but closer than before. Suddenly it appears an epidemic is threatening your country–and with it, the entire world. There is only one answer: create a vaccine that can be used to cure the sick. But, since almost everyone is infected and dropping like flies, good blood is hard to come by. Finally, they find someone with the kind of untainted blood they need, and he is your son. You are asked to choose: either humanity extinguishes itself as we know it from a preventable disease, or you authorize the doctors to draw your son’s blood–all of it–for the necessary vaccine to save the world. It is a question of child sacrifice. I think you can see where this is leading.

The tale ends with a tear-jerker: Would you be able to turn your son over to the doctors, while he cries, “Mommy, daddy, why are you abandoning me?”

OK, you get the point. The parents authorize the doctors to drain their son of blood, vaccinating all of humankind (yeah, sure) against the horrible virus, but the people of the world are too caught up in their own lives to notice the selfless sacrifice. The parents cry out: “Our son died for you! Don’t you care?!”

And then the little story dips into the real message: “God sacrificed his son for you! And you don’t care!!”

Man, do I dislike chain letters.