Friday, November 30, 2012


This is a quick post as sort of a culmination of some of my recent posts on religious figures leaving their religion and also the various inconsistencies and anachronisms of Mormonism. The first video is a talk given by Grant Palmer (a contributor for who was a Mormon seminary teacher for several years and now writes books on the problems of Mormonism, and, most interestingly, has "insider information" on various Mormon higher-ups who no longer believe in the church:

Next is Ken Clark who was a Director for one of the Mormon Church's CES Institutes (similar to seminary, but for adults instead of teens) for over 27 years. In the following seminar he talks about the dilemma he found himself in when, as a CES director, Church authorities told him to be dishonest about the Church's history so as to avoid challenging the faith of his students:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Part 10:


"Just as feminists wince when they hear 'he' rather than 'he or she', or 'man' rather than 'human', I want everybody to flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as 'Catholic child' or 'Muslim child'. Speak of a 'child of Catholic parents' if you like; but if you hear anybody speak of a 'Catholic child', stop them and politely point out that children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics."
--Richard Dawkins (author, "The God Delusion")

In high school I was very active in my church, and due to my involvement with certain prominent extracurricular activities, most of my peers knew this of me. My faith became part of my identity, at least from the perspective of others. This was mostly encouraging to me, but at times it also built a lot of pressure to be an "ambassador" (see left) for my church. If I really believed that my church had some divinely revealed truth that other churches were missing, then I had better act like it...

I some times laugh when I think about the role-reversal I have taken when compared with other people I grew up with--especially some of the more popular kids who apparently hit rock bottom (or got kind of close) and found Jesus. A few people from my graduating class are now pastors, of which only one was predictable at the time. Other kids who were not the least bit religious back then are now avid Christians of one variety or another, many of whom are quite vocal about it, as well.

It's strange, though, that those who go the other direction, such as myself, are much less likely to be vocal about their change-over. I have thought many times about confronting some of the louder religious friends of mine, in hopes of engaging in an intellectually provocative discussion. And perhaps I will some day, but in the mean time I have been examining some of their views which they present so publicly. And to be honest, I don't find what they have to say all that thought-provoking, since they tend to either preach to the choir or use old, tiresome arguments which I have already addressed on this blog many times.

One such person is Wes Dunn, who was a rather boisterous Evangelist in high school, so it is no wonder that he is now a Youth Pastor for a large church in Seattle, called City Church. In the videos below, Wes talks about a few things pertaining to his position and offers encouragement for the youth, etc. He mentions a couple of things which I want to address. As preparation for a possible upcoming confrontation (i.e. debate), I will use a standard letter format, addressed to Mr. Dunn.

Dear Mr. Wesley Dunn,

First, I find it odd and slightly menacing of you to tell sexually repressed teenagers that one of the things which helps you stay "fresh and inspired" is having sex with your wife. You say you are being "candid", and I assume you are also trying to paint an encouragable picture of a proper, traditional marriage; but if even I, an atheist, felt a bit put off by your statement, I can only imagine what it might do to a young teenage boy--filled to the brim with testosterone--who recently discovered masturbation, and even more recently discovered it is a sin... But who knows, perhaps you are part of one of those new-fangled "progressive" Christian churches which doesn't spout the usual list of damnable natural urges.

Second, you speak about morality and good versus bad reasons for doing the right thing, which in the beginning had me agreeing with you, but your final conclusion lost me entirely. As commendable as it is to do good things without the promise of a "paycheck", the very next sentence, "There is only rewards in heaven", confuses the idea of doing good things without reward. Aside from having to wait a while longer for your compensation, how is this mentality of heavenly rewards as a motivation to do good things any different than doing these things for money?

The expectation, I would argue, is even more contemptible since people who believe this kind of thing usually think of heaven as being far more grand than an earthly paycheck. In fact, I would say it is more moral to do good things for a finite paycheck, than an eternal prize after death. And along the same vein, how much more moral would a person be who knew they were going to hell and still did good things? What about a person who thinks death is the end of existence, and yet, does good things? Clearly, since they are not doing it for a prize or compensation of any kind, these people would be the most moral of all.

Lastly, you spend a great amount of time talking about "honoring" leaders and trusting God. Yet, you also qualify your advice with obviously amoral exceptions, like slavery and abuse. The interesting thing about this is that the Bible which you hold dear advocates slavery and actually tells slaves to obey their masters. It goes further by giving instructions to slave-masters as to how hard they can beat their slaves (within an inch of their life). So, you seem to be cherry-picking the moral advice you derive from the Bible.

I am curious how you differentiate between the moral and immoral parts of the Bible. If you say the "Spirit of God", then I would ask: Why does the perfect word of God require such divine inspiration to discern the morality of what is supposed to be the "Good Book" from which Christians claim to get their morals. Why all the confusion? How do you know it is actually the "Spirit of God" and not your own mind? Isn't it more likely that you are just rationalizing your own moral compass with what you read in the Bible? Furthermore, if all Christians claim to use the "Spirit of God" to properly interpret the Bible, why are there so many arguments about things like gay rights among Christians, all of which cite the same Holy Book? How do you know that you are interpreting it correctly?

I look forward to your response, but let's be honest, you are never going to read this, let alone respond to it.

Skeptically Yours,

Circle Squared

OK, here are the videos:

Part 1

Part 2

Sunday, November 25, 2012


"And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication."
--Christopher Hitchens (author, god is not Great)

Apologetics must be tiring. Insensitive, ignorant critics of religion are constantly questioning and prodding and pointing out supposed "flaws" in logic, rhetoric and scripture. Coming up with adequate responses to these incessant, belligerent attacks from the ungodly without succumbing to the dreary inanity of it all, must challenge the sanity of even the most pious. How do brave and valiant religious apologists do it?

Setting aside my facetious humor for a moment, it does seem like certain religious apologists have their work cut out for them. I have spent a lot of time researching and blogging about apparent flaws in the Book of Mormon. Today is no different.

One of the most intriguing anachronisms of the Book of Mormon is that of various passages cited from the Old Testament which should not be there. Let me explain. According to the story, the first book of the Book of Mormon is about a family leaving Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. This is explicitly stated as the primary reason for their exodus (roughly 600 BC). Before their final departure they stole the Brass Plates from a wicked (inebriated and decapitated) man. These Plates apparently contained a copy of the Old Testament as recorded up to that point. Therefore, anything which appears in the Old Testament after 600 BC (or after the fall of Jerusalem), should not be in the Brass Plates or in the Book of Mormon (as quoted from the Brass Plates).

Well, it turns out there are several passages from the book of Isaiah which, according to the vast majority of Bible Scholars, were written several years after the Brass Plates were allegedly taken. So the question for Mormon apologists is how can these passages be present in the Book of Mormon?

There are a few explanations for how this may have occured. One explanation is that the primary reasons for the current timeline of Isaiah, as accepted by the vast majority of Bible Scholars, are flawed.

Most scholars accept what is called the Deutero-Isaiah theory, which is the idea that the book of Isaiah was actually written by at least 3 different authors; the first being Isaiah himself prior to the Babylonian captivity (chapters 1-39), the second being an anonymous author during captivity (chapters 40-55), and a third author after the Jews were freed (chapters 56-66). Scholars use methods like changes in language, context, and historical names and events to determine this timeline, which I will not go into detail here.

The Mormon apologist response to this is that using these contextual methods to determine a historical timeline is inappropriate since the book is one of prophesy. Well, this is silly when you consider the fact that certain names and events would not have made any sense to the people at the time of Isaiah (pre-captivity), thus rendering the prophesy useless.

Another explanation for misplaced Isaianic passages within the Book of Mormon is pointing out that other passages from the Bible are also present in the Book of Mormon, like the Sermon on the Mount. As apologists will explain, these passages have an appropriate context, like Jesus appearing to a group of people and laying out the Beatitudes, which makes it consistent with the rest of the book. And this is true. However, the fact that the book claims that Jesus appeared and quoted passages of scripture changes the nature of the claim substantially. No such claim is made in the case of Isaiah, as these passages are described as being quoted from the Brass Plates directly. No divine intervention was required! It was simply "copy and paste".

Another problem Mormons face with all this copying and pasting is that there are known errors in the various Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon. By this I mean, the Book of Mormon uses entire chapters of the King James Version of the Bible, complete with errors in that version. This means that Joseph Smith very clearly used the KJV when writing those passages in the Book of Mormon. If he had been citing a divinely inspired book as he claimed, which would have come about independently of the KJV, then such errors should not be present, and should instead be consistent with the oldest Biblical manuscripts.

You can read more Mormon apologetics on Isaiah here if you want.

The point I am trying to get at with all of this pseudo-scholarship is that Mormon apologists quite often find themselves in this awkward position of standing in opposition to the majority of Bible scholars. They have to challenge the consensus in order to remain relevant and viable. In order for the Book of Mormon to be true, the vast majority of Bible scholars have to be wrong about the timeline of Isaiah, among other things. And the only reason these types of conflicts occur is because of something Mormon apologists have chosen to accept and assert without any reason or evidence. Is it any wonder, then, that their apologetic style is equally unsupported?

You would think apologists would be a lot more apologetic...


Here is Mr Deity exploring some more Book of Mormon anachronisms:

Saturday, November 24, 2012


"God, Satan, Paradise and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith. I recall it vividly. I was at school in England by then. The moment of awakening happened, in fact, during a Latin lesson, and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No tunderbolt arrived to strike me down. I remember feeling that my survival confirmed the correctness of my new position."
--Salman Rushdie

Growning up, I recall many stories of people being cut-off from their families after joining the Mormon church. To us such accounts stood as a testament that Satan had a hold on people of other faiths, and caused them to lash out especially vitriolically towards our church. To them, we were a cult.

There is no doubt that many protestant denominations have a very low opinion of Mormons, but we were blind to the fact that such stories are common of pretty much anyone who leaves the faith of their parents. This is understandable when you consider the view the parents often hold that those who apostacize from their church will be doomed to Hell. As awful as this is, it is far worse when your own children fall victim to such a fate (by a loving god, no less).

I once shared with my mother an experience of a person leaving the Mormon Church and being shunned by their parents (whom my mother knew personally), and she was shocked that the parents reacted as they did. This was likely the first time she had heard of this coming from members of her own congregation. As for my parents' reaction to my atheism, my mother just cried uncontrollably, and my father has yet to comment. I am one of the lucky ones. The unluckiest of all are those who are in a position of religious authority or responsibility.

A few years ago, Daniel Dennett (the Santa Clause of Atheism, see left) wondered how many active pastors and reverends and priests no longer believed in their respective faiths. To answer this, he founded the Clergy Project as an outreach for ministers who are now atheists and don't know how to get out. You see, many professional clergy have spent years studying their religion, and have built successful careers preaching. Their entire livelihood is dependent on their faith. They have no other professional skills to speak of, so leaving the church means losing their job and putting the well-being of their families at risk.

One of the main goals of the Clergy Project (now 390 members strong) is to provide aide for those who make the decision to leave the ministry and try to find another job. Two of the most well-known "graduates" of the project are Jerry DeWitt and Teresa MacBain.

Jerry, a product of Jimmy Swaggart, has had a rough time finding a job since leaving his ministry, and even spent some time living amid persecution from former congregants, but now works for a foundation similar to the Clergy Project, Recovering from Religion (a fitting position). Here is an article from the New York Times on Jerry's transition.

Teresa's experience mirrors Jerry's quite a bit. Similarly, she also had trouble finding a new job, but now works for American Atheists. Here is an article from NPR on Teresa's story.

The dilemma of choosing between your family's well-being and your own moral integrity is no doubt difficult. The issue of when an atheist comes out publicly is hotly debated. Some of the more agressive anti-theistic atheists proclaim that all non-believers should be open and vocal about their position. I tend to side with the softer approach that you should only come out if you are comfortable with the potential backlash. Only you can make that call, but if you feel adequately prepared and courageous enough to make the stand, doing so makes the climate of public discourse more hospitable and welcoming for other closeted atheists whose situation may be more dire.


Here is an episode of the Atheist Experience with guest Teresa MacBain:

Here is the Atheist Experience with Jerry DeWitt:

And now, Tom Cruise won't come out of the closet...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Troy: "Let me ask your a question. People have been clowning me about this jacket since I got here. If I take it off to make them happy, that just makes me weak, right?"
Jeff: "Listen, it doesn't matter. You lose the jacket to please them, you keep it to piss them off--either way, it's for them. That's what's weak."
Troy: "Whoa... You just wrinkled my brain, man."
--excerpt from "Community"

When I moved to Utah some 10 years ago, everyone I knew here was Mormon. A large part of this was due to me attending BYU (a Mormon university), where practically everyone is Mormon. Even the handful of non-Mormon students at BYU have to attend certain religious classes where they mostly learn about Mormonism and many become members. This is not surprising, though, since it seems unlikely that anyone not at least mildly interested in joining the Church would attend BYU.

As I gradually stopped going to church, I found that there are quite a few non- and ex-Mormons in Utah--even in Provo (where BYU is located). Sadly, many of them are disgruntled, disaffected and alienated the closer you get to BYU.

I have even noticed a trend among them that they will often go to great lengths to wear their non-Mormon-ness on their shoulder and intentionally do things just because a Mormon would not do it. Things like drinking alcohol and coffee, smoking cigarettes, using illicit drugs, getting tattoos, piercings and "unique" haircuts, growing facial hair, talking like a sailor and sexual promiscuity are sure-fire ways to make people doubt you are a Mormon.

While I don't really have a problem with people doing these things on moral grounds (as many religious people would argue), I see no reason to engage in such activities just to prove to passersby that I don't pay tithing or wear funny underwear.

Unlike many people around me who have also left Mormonism, I do not feel compelled in the least to change my lifestyle. In fact, I haven't used religion as a reason to not drink or smoke since I graduated from high school. There are much more convincing arguments against these sorts of activities which have nothing to do with religion or morality--like, say, health.

Because of the fact that in many ways I still live the "Mormon lifestyle", people often think I am Mormon. I don't really have a problem with this confusion, although, some people seem to think I should. Being associated with Mormons, even accidentally, is insulting to some people. Personally, I see it as an opportunity to challenge social norms and show that religion has nothing to do with being healthy, clean, sober and the sort of person you wouldn't mind bringing home to your parents.

For me, one of the best aspects of being an atheist is the ability to make decisions on my own, rather than taking the word of authority figures with self-appointed credentials. I believe people should live their lives the best way they know how, however bland and typical and ordinary it may be. If you find yourself doing things just to prove that you are not religious or part of a particular group, you are allowing other people to determine how you live your life. Make your own decisions--you will be much happier this way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Ever wonder if the politically far-right have considered how NOT legalizing gay marriage might destroy their own relationships? BAM! Touche, army of fabulous Luke Skywalkers. Touche.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


"At the end of 2010, the [Mormon] Church’s use of Scouting included: 142,085 Cub Scouts in 10,345 packs; 205,990 Boy Scouts in 19,285 troops; 64,645 Venturers in 8,298 crews."
--Boy Scouts of America

I was as much into the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as the next Mormon teenage boy, but I never got around to earning the rank of Eagle Scout. I got to the rank of Life (one step under Eagle) fairly early on in my scouting career and just coasted to the end. To me scouting was about having fun and learning some cool, albeit essentially useless skills. In this sense, I was a successful scout.

By the standard imposed upon me by the 1st counselor of the Stake Presidency (part of the local Mormon clergy), I had failed the day I turned 18 as anything less than an Eagle Scout. Just weeks before my 18th birthday, he told me that if I didn't make the rank of Eagle in time, I would regret it for the rest of my life. In a way, he was right.

At about the same time, my quasi-girlfriend told me that she wasn't interested in dating someone who wasn't of proper scouting rank. Coincidentally, she married a guy who made it to Eagle at the age of 13. Throughout much of my mission and while attending BYU, where I was surrounded by Eagle Scouts, I felt as though I was constantly having to defend my rank. In the long run, though, I have found that most people outside of Mormonism don't really care about Eagle Scouts, so I have stopped worrying about it. It is nothing more than an elitist club where grown men teach teenage boys how to tie knots, build camp fires, and segregate themselves from people with differing opinions...

The Boy Scout program was hijacked by the Mormon Church decades ago. Every teenage boy in the Church is automatically registered in the Boy Scouts of America. This comprises about 15% of the scouting program, making the Mormon Church the single largest supporter of the BSA, both financially and in the number of boys actively participating in the program.

As of right now, atheists and homosexuals cannot join the BSA as leaders or even scouts. This has become an increasingly hot topic as more and more states are legalizing gay marriage and the general social climate is much more in favor of gay rights than ever before. Here is where it gets interesting, however, as the Mormon Church has often vocally declared that if the BSA were to allow gays among their ranks (see what I did there?), the church would pull all of their boys from the program and stop funding events. The Mormon Church is so serious about this, that they have a program already set up and ready for immediate implementation to replace the BSA, should they decide to let in gay scouts and scout masters (like, say, the Girl Scouts).

Now, from a legal stand point, things get a little fuzzy. On the one hand, the BSA and the Mormon Church are private organizations and as such have the right to exclude whomever they want (not unlike the KKK having the right to exclude black people). But the BSA receives government subsidies and various perks, which means the government is using tax money to support a discriminatory organization. The legal precedent is a little unclear here, but some people are fighting the legal battle to remove government support of the BSA unless they revise their policies to be more inclusive. Honestly, I don't think legal battles will be as effective as other methods which seem to be turning the tide for the Scouts.

According to this article, Intel will be ceasing any donations to the BSA due to their policy on gay members. This may not pinch their pocket books quite as much as it would if the Mormon Church left the program, but I have a feeling as more private businesses voice their support for (or against) gay marriage, we will see this kind of monetary withholding more often.

Ultimately, I think the BSA will eventually have to accept gays (and probably atheists, too), as their funds begin to shift. Then they will finally be rid of the yoke of Mormon scouting.


Here is Penn and Teller: Bullsh!t on the Boy Scouts of America (explicit)

Friday, November 9, 2012


Sometimes I like to watch Christian television. It amuses (scares?) me that so many people take Televangelists seriously. Here are some of my favorite clips of Televangelist heavy weight Pat Robertson.

"50 Shades of Grey" and "Mommy Porn":

A blessing in disguise in Haiti:

Off-air homophobia:

Predicting the 2012 election:

Demon Hunting:

Spousal abuse:


And my personal favorite, the cause of 9/11:

Thursday, November 8, 2012


"I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in "A," "B," "C," and "D." Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism."
--Barry Goldwater

Generally speaking, the people I work with don't talk about politics much. But some people just couldn't help themselves on election day (especially when Obama won Ohio...), and since I live in a (very) red state, the inevitable anti-liberal rhetoric began to spew. Some of it was amusing in the same way that high school football team rivalries can be amusing. A few comments caught my attention, though, and I feel they are relevant to this blog.

The first comment was by a co-worker who had spent some time in the military, and despite seeming to be some-what in favor of gay rights, thinks repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a huge step backwards for civil rights. Their reasoning is that by repealing DADT, gays will now face more prejudice in the military, which is apparently filled with "not the most politically correct people".

They even gave an example of a gay person they knew personally who was charged with sexual harassment for looking at someone in the shower (something which apparently was impossible when DADT was in place). According to this person, DADT "was there for a reason". This is like saying we should not have ended the segregation of schools in the 60s because some people are racist pricks.

Now, assuming everything this person said about the military is true, the argument that DADT should be in place because it protects gays from some forms of discrimination seems to fall apart upon closer examination. DADT was a band aid on a compound fracture. The root problem is homophobia in the military.

I think the best way to fight prejudice of any stripe is to expose it and make it part of public discourse. This is one of the ways through which Feminists and Blacks gained so much ground in the last century. Superficial and arbitrary laws like segregation and DADT don't help in the long run--they simply allow prejudice to fester.

Anecdotal stories like the gay person in the shower being sued for harassment sounds compelling, but again, it is evidence of the greater issue which DADT was masking. Honestly, even though this person is going through a legal battle over something which should not be an issue, this is still a sign of progress. Without DADT in the way, people can now hash out these disputes through the legal system and begin to set legal precedent in the fight against homophobia. This is very important. As more cases go court, the better our legal system will be able to combat prejudicial suits.

A big part of the problem seems to stem from the rise of Evangelical Christianity within the military. This particular brand of Christianity is notoriously homophobic, so it is no wonder that homophobia in the military would be proportional to it.

Here is a blog post from an American soldier on the first openly gay general in the US military.

The second comment from work which struck me was from another pro-Romney co-worker: "I had a really good feeling about this election. I even prayed about it".

Mormons have a tendency to over-emphasize the power of prayer. By this I mean that they think prayer actually has power. Mormon culture is such that if you sincerely pray about something and have a "good feeling" about it, this counts as an answer to that prayer, and one should assume that god will act accordingly.

I have posted on the failure of prayer before, so I won't go into detail about that. But I would like to point out that because this person had a "good feeling" about this prayer and things didn't pan out, one would think this would be a tally against god's track record. Not so in Mormonism.

Like many other religious denominations, Mormons only keep track of the answered prayers, and then rationalize away any prayers which go unanswered (i.e. "it wasn't time", or "some times god says 'no'"). This is called the "sharpshooter fallacy" (counting hits, ignoring misses), and is especially prevalent among those with strong biases.

So, will this failed prayer challenge the faith of my co-worker? Not very likely. She will probably find some excuse for why god seemingly told her "yes," but didn't follow through. Further down the road she will likely share the experience during a Sunday School lesson as a faith-building trial, which now bolsters her resolve that god is real. Such is the mind-state of the irrational.


Here is Obama repealing DADT:

Here is Bill Maher on DADT (mildly offensive, but amusing):

And, last but not least, an entire episode of the Atheist Experience on the failure of prayer:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Just in case you need a reminder that America's religious freedoms are better than elsewhere in the world, here you go!

Friday, November 2, 2012


"What can be asserted without proof, can be dismissed without proof."
--Christopher Hitchens

What is the difference between "faith" and "gullibility"? The same thing that war is good for: absolutely nothing ("Good God, Y'all").

Let's define some terms:

Gullibility: tendency to believe too readily and therefore to be easily deceived. Noun: credulity, innocence, naïveté, blind faith, credulousness, simplicity. "She must take part of the blame for her own gullibility".

Faith: 1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Strong or unshakable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence. Noun: confidence, trust, credit, conviction, assurance, dependence, reliance, credence. "She had placed a great deal of faith in him".

Upon reading the above definitions, I hope you noticed that the only real difference between the words "faith" and "gullibility" is the connotation that "gullibility" is inherently negative, and therefore, undesirable. Keep this in mind as I attempt to show that the two words are essentially the same in meaning.

John chapter 20 is the story of the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances to various people, including the infamous Doubting Thomas (aka "Didymus"). Famously, after Thomas put his fingers in Jesus's side and felt his wounds to verify that the man before him was, in fact, the resurrected Christ, Jesus is quoted as saying to Thomas:

"Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

Here Jesus is setting the standard that believing the testimony of other people is a valid reason to believe a given claim, and is seemingly more favorable in the eyes of god than withholding belief until one can verify the claim through empiricism and evidence. In other words, taking some one's word for something is just as good--if not better--than actually experiencing it firsthand. God will allegedly bless those who believe without good reasons to do so.

As absurd as this sounds, it is reinforced again in the Book of Mormon as Jesus appears to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11: 14-15. Here Jesus instructs an entire multitude of people to touch his wounds to verify that he is the Christ. In the very next chapter Jesus again affirms that those who believe without seeing him themselves will be blessed.

The thing which strikes me as odd is that both instances are preceded by accounts of people actually seeing Jesus with their own eyes! In the case of Thomas, every single other apostle saw Jesus the week before. The reason he is called "Doubting Thomas" is because he did not believe the outlandish tale of the other apostles that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, without first seeing some evidence. If he had believed them, based only on their word, then he would have rightly been labeled "gullible", because he would have had no reason to accept their extraordinary claim.

As with Thomas, the Nephites who did not actually see and touch Jesus would have no reason to believe such an event had occurred, and would similarly be counted as "believing too readily", thus making them gullible. Would this be commendable or desirable?

Sometimes, critics of Christianity will point these things out to Christians and ask the question, "If Jesus appeared to Doubting Thomas (or the Nephites), why doesn't he appear to people who question his existence today?" This is similar to asking, "Why doesn't god prove his existence to everyone once and for all?" The most common response I have received for asking these types of questions is that if god or Jesus did prove their existence, it would remove the need for faith, and we would all become automatons and robots--devoid of free will, and slaves to our knowledge (or some other nonsensical gibberish).

There are several problems with this argument. For instance, unlike god, I know that police exist; does this knowledge remove my ability to break the law? According to Christian theology, Satan knows that god exists, and yet he continues to rebel. Will we have a perfect knowledge of god's existence in heaven? If so, does this mean there will be no free will in the afterlife, or that we will be angelic slave-bots? Did the apostles (and the Nephites) lose their agency when they saw and touched Jesus?

The proposition of losing free will upon gaining knowledge is unsatisfactory, and does not stand against even the most mild scrutiny. Why then does god not grant all people with knowledge of his existence? Wouldn't withholding information which would save billions of people from experiencing eternal torture implicate the person with that information as being among the most despicable and wretched creatures in existence? Does god get a "pass" here?

Hebrews 11:1 says:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

As I understand this passage, faith is hoping for something for which you have no evidence. This is consistent with the definition of "faith" at the top of the page, but the definition provided in the Book of Mormon adds some important information concerning "faith":

" is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." [emphasis added]

This passage implies that you can only have faith in something which is true. The problem with this is that in order to verify that a given claim is true, you need to provide evidence, which in turn removes the need for faith all together.

For the sake of argument, let's suppose that the accounts of Thomas and the Nephites are true. After having seen and touched Jesus in this way, these people no longer have faith, but knowledge of Jesus's existence. This makes Jesus's comment to Thomas that he should "be not faithless, but believing" nonsensical, since Thomas had empirically confirmed Jesus's existence just moments before.

Believing something to be absolutely true without evidence, however fervently, is a contemptible state of mind. This kind of rationale gives way to holding similarly unjustified beliefs. If you can posit the existence of Bigfoot without evidence, you can equally posit the existence of pixies, Santa Clause, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Raptor Jesus (see left).

Those who utilize this way of thinking will not be "blessed" as Jesus has twice promised. Rather, it will cloud a mind's ability to make rational decisions, thus making people susceptible to "believing too readily and therefore be easily deceived".

A god which rewards gullibility over rationality is not worthy of worship.


Here is the Atheist Experience discussing Doubting Thomas and gullibility:

Thursday, November 1, 2012


"This story of the redemption will not stand examination. That man should redeem himself from the sin of eating an apple, by committing a murder on Jesus Christ, is the strangest system of religion ever set up."
--Thomas Paine (Founding Father of the United States)

I have mentioned "Original Sin" and the idea of sins carrying on to any subsequent generations in a few posts now. Lately, I have been thinking about this in the context of Mormonism, and what I was taught while growing up in the Church.

Officially, the Church does not accept the traditional doctrine of "Original Sin" and various leaders have explained why this concept is immoral. In fact, the rejection of this bit of dogma is even included in the "Articles of Faith" (part of the Mormon canon):

"2 We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression."

While it is true that Mormon's believe that in the Final Judgement at the end of the world people will be judged according to their actions alone, this says nothing of god issuing punishments to all mankind for Adam's transgressions in this life. This seems to give licence to doctrines like the "Fall of Mankind" or the "Fall of Adam" which is the idea that all of mankind is punished for Adam's partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil by falling from the grace and literal presence of god.

(Some Mormons believe that the Earth used to be located near the infamous planet Kolob and was subsequently moved away after the debacle in the Garden of Eden, but as far as I'm aware, this is conjecture and not official Church doctrine).

In principle it seems that Mormons only have a problem with the eternal consequences of "Original Sin", as this is the primary moral difference between it and the "Fall of Adam". This is reinforced when you consider the fact that the Book of Mormon contains many passages where god curses, albeit only temporally, entire groups of people for the actions of their ancestors. Temporal punishment is less amoral than eternal punishment, but it is still not moral in any meaningful sense. It is merely the lesser of two amoral propositions.

Here are just a few examples of such cursings: Curse of the Lamanites ("skin of blackness"); anyone "mixing their seed" with the Lamanites (inter-racial marriage); Nephites who would not repent of their adultery (and possibly polygamy--no, that can't be right...); the Tower of Babel (origin of multiple languages around the world--except, of course, the Chinese who had been reading and writing in their own language for centuries before this story allegedly took place); anyone who does not give money to the Church (convenient, isn't it?). You get the idea.

Ultimately, that the Mormon church does not accept "Original Sin" seems to be yet another case of more modern religions negating outdated doctrines of older religions. A little common sense shows that "Original Sin" is not a just doctrine, which could be one reason Christianity has had to fight so hard to remain relevant. And I'm not just talking about the scripture wars and dogmatic changes of the last century, but for the last two thousand years.

At face value, Christianity is not as moral as it would have you believe ("Original Sin", eternal punishments for finite crimes, rewarding gullibility over reason and rationality). This, I think, is one reason why the Inquisition occurred--without forcing people to accept doctrines like "Original Sin" by threat of death, who would believe it to be morally justifiable? And without the Inquisition I find it very hard to believe that Christianity would have survived this long.


Here is the Atheist Experience discussing "Original Sin" and Adam and Eve: