Trump: Leading From His Behind

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

I could never, ever claim to be an expert on politics or social issues. I would never describe myself as “woke,” mostly because I hate the term “woke.” However, the recent tragedy in Charlottesville provided a new opportunity for our president and his followers to fail on even the most basic levels of competency and human empathy.

This should not have been a hard week for the Trump administration. Any decent president, regardless of their true feelings or original narrative, would have stepped up immediately after this tragedy and said, “Fuck Nazis.” Nothing brings people together like a common enemy! Even the younger Bush, whose presidency now I yearn for in moments of weakness, bumbled into high approval ratings after 9/11. Yet our current president found it necessary to prevaricate, then double down, acting like a previously-unknown “alt-left” was equally responsible for the murderous rampage in Charlottesville.

Who’s the “alt-left” in Trump’s mind? As far as I can tell, the “alt-left” are the guys who attack Nazis, who have historically been known as the good guys! To put it in terms Trump would understand: Was Indiana Jones “alt-left”? Was Captain America “alt-left”? Was even Daffy Duck “alt-left”?

What would Trump have said during World War II? “What about the ‘Allies’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘Nazis,’ do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with guns in hands, shooting guns, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

This isn’t even hard! Just say “Nazis are bad!” and don’t hedge on it. What are they going to do, vote Democrat? They’d sooner let their daughter date a Jew! Hell, you don’t even need the Nazis in your party! You’ve still got all the racists, all the fascists, all the xenophobes – really, anyone who’s looking at this mess and thinking, “I may hate Hispanics and think all blacks are criminals, but at least I’m not a god-damn Nazi!

Prophecy Breakdown: The Virgin Shall Conceive

As I started inching away from Christianity and began to examine my faith from a more objective distance, I started noticing inconsistencies that were so obvious that I couldn’t believe they’d never occurred to me before. One of the biggest issues concerned messianic prophecies, a key tool of the apologist’s arsenal. I was taught that the odds of Jesus fulfilling so many specific predictions was so astronomically small, he must have come from God himself!

However, the issue isn’t as cut-and-dry as the apologists would have you believe. It only takes minimal scrutiny of prophecies quoted by the gospels to notice that they don’t apply to Jesus at all! One of the most damning examples comes from Isaiah 7:14, quoted by Matthew, and by extension every Christmas pageant ever written:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

So the big question is: what is the context here? Who is the Lord giving a sign, and what is the sign meant to confirm? Let’s start from the beginning of chapter 7:

In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. (v. 1)

Judah is under attack, and its inhabitants, even up to King Ahaz himself, are quaking with fear (v. 2). So God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to deliver reassurance that this attack will not succeed:

Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. (v.4)

It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. (v. 7)

Not only does God send Ahaz a message through Isaiah, he tells Ahaz he can ask for any sign he wants as confirmation (v. 11). Ahaz is hesitant, but apparently God has a sign at the ready that he just has to dole out, even if it’s not requested. This is the sign in verse 14, the one attributed to Jesus in the Christmas narrative.

The problem is that this child is clearly not a future Messiah. The succeeding verses make it clear that his life will be contemporary to Ahaz and the kings that have beset him:

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (v. 16-17)

Where does it mention a coming Messiah? Where does it speak of the savior of all mankind? There’s no reason to think that Isaiah 7:14 is speaking about Jesus, and every reason to think the verse was manipulated and reinterpreted to fit a new situation it was never meant to predict.

 

Book Review: Is God Just a Human Invention?

As a member of our local Atheist Christian Book Club, I’ve had the opportunity to delve back into the world of Christian apologetics, an area I haven’t touched since high school. It’s interesting to see what new ideas are out there, as well as what hasn’t changed in the last 15 years. Most recently, our group reviewed Is God Just a Human Invention? by Sean McDowell (son of well-known apologist Josh) and Jonathan Morrow. I was hoping that the breadth of topics covered by this book would yield some interesting new thoughts to consider, but I left feeling disappointed. McDowell and Morrow express little in the way of original thoughts, and when they do veer off the approved apologetic script, the results are unconvincing and best and downright shameful at worst.

I sometimes wonder why new apologetics books are published if they’re just going to repeat the same arguments ad infinitum. The very first chapter claims that theism is making a roaring comeback on college campuses, once bastions of godlessness, bolstered by “new insights and evidence” that have “brought new vitality to theism.” So what are these brand-new, earth-shattering ideas that have academia in such a tizzy? The cosmological argument! The argument from design! The argument from morality! Have the authors never read another apologetics text? Hell, the cosmological argument is at least a thousand years old! “The New Atheists can only ignore these arguments for so long,” they say. Well, the New Atheists haven’t been ignoring them, but even they were, there have been rebuttals of these arguments around for as long as believers have been repeating them. Perhaps, unlike McDowell and Morrow, they’re hesitant to tread the same well-worn paths.

Many of McDowell and Morrow’s arguments simply don’t work, or even make the opposite case. In a chapter about Christianity’s reputation for sexual repression, the authors assert, in Italics even, that “God is pro-sex!” The rest of the chapter details that God is specifically pro-heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage, which pretty much confirms the argument they think they’re debunking. Chapter 2 posits that the human brain is prone to error and unreliable, while Chapter 3 mocks atheists who would deny a miracle that happened in front of them. If our brains are so easily deceived, why would we not be skeptical of a seemingly impossible occurrence?

The most painful part of the book is watching McDowell and Morrow argue themselves in knots trying to rationalize biblical atrocities. In a chapter defending biblical slavery (!) McDowell and Morrow make the absurd claim that “God can’t just eradicate slavery all at once and still retain human freedom.” In other words, we cannot outlaw an institution that oppresses human beings because that would be oppressive to human beings? This isn’t the only conundrum. In a chapter about genocide in the Old Testament, the authors point to the Canaanite ritual of child sacrifice as justification for God’s command that Israel’s warriors “not leave alive anything that breathes“, which presumably would include children. Strangely, the authors don’t even touch on the slaughter of the Amalekites, where Saul is lambasted for not killing literally everything and everyone. Plus, there’s that whole worldwide flood thing. As a former Christian, I can sympathize with the authors, as it is indeed difficult to reconcile the barbaric God of the Old Testament with the New Testament’s God of love.

That said, McDowell and Morrow lose my sympathy when their arguments become disingenuous and insulting. When they hold up serial killer Ted Bundy as the inevitable result of atheistic immorality, or they quote “atheistic philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (who was carefully read by Hitler)” it becomes clear they are more interested in poisoning the well then having an authentic discussion. Perhaps more disturbing, in the previously-mentioned chapter on sexual repression, the authors have the audacity to claim that date rape – date rape – is no big deal outside of Christian morality. They paraphrase Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse in wondering why atheists would ever care about rape on college campuses:

When people go on dates, the frequently find themselves participating in many activities they don’t particularly want to do. Why is it a crisis, she asks, to get forced into sex, but not a crisis to get forced into eating Chinese food when you really wanted Mexican? Why aren’t there “basketball game date crisis centers” for students to visit after being dragged to a basketball game they didn’t want to attend?

How can anyone make these comparisons with a straight face? Have McDowell and Morrow never met a rape victim? Do they lack such a concept of a woman’s bodily autonomy, or even a basic human empathy, that the only thing keeping them from a libidinous rape parade is a WWJD bracelet? Or do they call the police in tears every time they get dragged to brunch with their wives’ friends, because that’s just like rape?

The authors do provide one passage worth special emphasis, as it sums up apologetics, intelligent design, and the whole of Christian ignorance in a single paragraph. McDowell and Morrow spend a chapter discussing the fine-tuning argument, and along the way they chastise science and its pesky desire to know stuff:

Can scientists only accept explanations that have further explanations? The problem with this objection is that it is always possible to ask for a further explanation. There comes a point, however, when scientists must deny the request for further explanation and accept the progress they have made. If the universe looks designed, why not accept design as the most plausible explanation, even if we can’t explain the Designer?

Oh, science! Hasn’t the time come to rest on your laurels? After all, we’ve already learned that the sun orbits the Earth, diseases are caused by imbalances of the humours, and everything around us is made from exactly five elements. Take a break – you’ve earned it!

The ultimate flaw in Is God Just a Human Invention? is its very thesis. McDowell and Morrow go specifically after the “New Atheists,” presumably because they think all atheists get their marching orders from the dastardly Four Horsemen. In reality, Dawkins doesn’t speak for all atheists. Neither do Hitchens, Dennett, or Harris. This isn’t to say that atheists are immune from dogma or demagoguery, but I would hope that anyone who is skeptical enough to become an atheist would also be discerning enough to understand that no one person or book has all the answers.

Christian Music Retrospective, aka Trix Are For God’s Children

I listened exclusively to Christian music all the way until I discovered bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – ten years after everyone else. CCM isn’t all bad, and I still have some of my old favorites in the iTunes rotation, but there’s a lot of Christian songs that are derivative at best and lyrically problematic at worst. Here are a couple songs that I enjoyed as kid but now recognize as falling into the latter category.

Newsboys, “Breakfast”

Hold the milk, put back the sugar
They are powerless to console
We’re gathered here to sprinkle ashes
From our late friend’s cereal bowl

Hell is a bad place, right? Just the worst. Between the gnashing of teeth, brimstone, and shit-covered suck-ups, it surpasses even Florida for least desirable final destinations. Stunningly, it took until 1996 for the Newsboys to uncover the most sinister aspect of hell, one even Revelations was too timid to reveal: inadequate catering.

When the toast has burned
And all the milk has turned
And Captain Crunch is waving farewell
When the Big One finds you
May this song remind you that
They don’t serve breakfast in hell

The Newsboys were the first Christian band that really caught my attention. They’re still going today with a more worshipful tone, but some of their earlier work was sardonic and oddly confrontational.

Back when the chess club said our eggs were soft
Every Monday he’d say grace and hold our juice aloft
Oh, none of us knew his check-out time would come so soon
But before his brain stopped waving, he composed this tune

The whole point of hell as described by the Bible is “You don’t want to be there.” Its portrayal is a contrast to the eternal bliss and wonder of heaven, and you as the reader are intended to fearfully recoil from your sinful trajectory and rush with gratitude into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. However, the perils of hell seem diminished when couched in cheeky wordplay and cereal puns. It makes the decision to follow Christ seem as inconsequential as choosing between Cocoa or Fruity Pebbles.

Those here without the Lord, how do you cope?
For this morning we don’t mourn like those who have no hope
Oh, rise up Fruit Loop lovers, sing out Sweet and Low
With spoons held high, we bid our brother Cheerio

See also: Relient K, “My Girlfriend”; The W’s, “The Devil is Bad”

Chris Rice, “Cartoons”

I was thinkin’ the other day,
What if cartoons got saved?
They’d start singing praise
In a whole new way

Christian culture gets pretty bizarre once you’re on the outside looking in. You find yourself asking the question, over and over again, “Why did I ever think this was normal?” The question could be applied to everything from the ritualistic simulated cannibalism of your revered founder to the mental state it must take to watch Saturday morning cartoons and wonder, “But what if they were Teenage Mutant Christian Turtles?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
“Cowabunga-loo-jah, Dude!”
Then there’s, “Kermit the Frog here, singing,
High-ho-le-loo-jah”
And that little bald guy, Elmer Fudd:
“How-ay-woo-jah”

Admittedly, this is a novelty song, the Christian equivalent of “What Does the Fox Say?”, but the theological implications of it are astounding. How could the Flintstones know about Jesus in prehistoric Bedrock? Do all dogs go to heaven if they enunciate, “Resus ried on the ross ror my rins”?

Oh that big old moose and his friend Rocky
“Bullwinkle-loo-jah”
And our favorite bear named Yogi
“Hey, Boo-boo-boo-loo-jah”
Then there’s all those little blue guys
And they’d sing, “Hah-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-lay-loo-jah”
How about Beavis and that other guy?
Nah!

Most distressing is the acknowledgement that some cartoon characters are beyond salvation. Beavis and Butthead were only teenagers with plenty of time to turn their lives around. If only someone would introduce them to Christian metal, perhaps they would be less like the Great Cornholio and more like the Great I AM!

Who Am I? And Why Am I Here?

Earth

These are the big questions, aren’t they? Not just the ones I should answer for you, the prospective reader, about the purpose of this blog, but the ones every person with any decent sense of introspection asks themselves at some point in their lives. I don’t think I’m qualified yet to answer existential questions about humanity in general (give it a few years), but I am arguably the most qualified person to address existential questions about this specific blog. So here it goes!

The subtitle says “From apologist to atheist” because that’s my journey in a nutshell. I was raised in a non-denominational Christian church, listened to Christian music, worked in a Christian bookstore, went to a Christian university – I was in deep. I thought I had a solid real-world foundation for my beliefs: the Bible was literal and verifiable, evolution was a baseless conspiracy, God was a logical and obvious reality.

And then I decided to investigate the other side. Plagued by a life’s worth of small doubts built up over decades, I started reading non-Christian literature for the first time. I discovered that a critical analysis of the Bible reveals more humanity than divinity, that there’s more evidence for evolution than I ever realized, that the Christian God doesn’t stand up to rational scrutiny. With much turmoil, I left the church and have yet to return.

I wanted to start this blog to add my voice to the ever-growing ranks of ex-believers in America, especially Texas. Some posts will expand on my own story and arguments that ultimately led to my deconversion. Others will be reflections of growing up in the Christian sub-culture and venting about the Christian-Republican complex that has become so powerful in modern society. If you’re reading this as a Christian, I’m not necessarily here to change your mind, but I hope you would be inspired to examine and refine your beliefs. If you’re reading as an ex-Christian, know that you’re not alone! There are many others who’ve had your same doubts, your same struggles, and made it through to the other side.