In what now seems like another lifetime, I was religious. But I think that from the time I was a small child, I believed things conditionally. While I was eating the lotus, I never lost that tiny bit of skepticism. It seems obvious to me today that others were not so lucky.
How old is religion? It might be easier to ask the age of mankind. Our recorded histories all contain evidence of belief, and the most ancient cities show that some form of belief goes as far back as civilization. One can speculate that religion was around for not only the human species, but for earlier, near-humans as well.
The next question might be, have there always been non-believers? Were there others like me, who didn’t commit entirely to the culture around them, who didn’t give in to the temptation to give up questioning, wondering, considering?
I don’t retain a lot of memory of belief, but I do remember sometimes wondering why others resisted arguments regarding religion; why they couldn’t see the obvious, that my religion was better than theirs. And now, from the opposite perspective, I wonder why they can’t see that superstition and religion are so obviously detrimental to understanding the world and to clear thinking. I can’t believe that others cannot see the damage that religion has done and continues to do. My recent foray into seeing religion as culture helps to explain the phenomenon, but Thomas Jefferson’s prediction that the day would come when the mystical generation of Jesus . . . would be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter seems as far away as ever. This Christian meme seems to be a very hardy one, and capable of adapting to any culture or mindset. It’s a very successful parasite.
Yesterday, I watched a (painful to me) debate between two supposed giants in their respective fields, William Lane Craig, the Christian apologist, and Frank Zindler, an atheist with hundreds of debates under his belt. It was a lesson from both perspectives on how not to participate in a debate. Craig began with the incredibly tired argument of ‘where did we come from,’ which I’ve addressed in an earlier post, and it didn’t go uphill from there. He didn’t disappoint when it came to misusing science, of which his weaknesses were apparent, as an argument to prove that his god was just obvious, and Zindler simply ignored Craig’s arguments and seemed to be reading from a pre-prepared script that had little to do with the subject matter. I didn’t disagree with the things he said, but he was completely out of step, as if he were not debating but had been making a solo presentation. I held my head in my hands as he just plain bombed.
The debate was held at a religious college and was linked to other colleges and votes were taken from those watching as to whether the atheist or the theist made the best presentation. Predictably, poor Frank got only 2% of the votes. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more obvious setup.
The announcer began his introduction by explaining the circumstances of the occasion, that they had agreed to find the best atheist debater in the world and give him a fair shot. Near the end of the presentation, obvious obsequious, self-serving claims and events were gleefully inserted by the representatives of the college, further undermining the atheist position. It’s hard to imagine a worst venue to promote rational freethought.
I can understand why those people continue to dismiss atheism – it was an orgy of bloodspilling and victories for the Soldiers of the Lord. In my opinion, neither debater was worth his reputation.
I’m glad that such debates are taking place – and I’m glad that non-belief is now the fastest-growing group in the U.S.A. But sometimes, it looks as though it’s two steps forward and three steps back. Call it, “wallowing in Christendom.” We’re swimming in the soup of the Christian culture and sometimes it’s hard to stay on the surface; to not be pulled into the current and lost in the maelstrom. (Please forgive the mixed metaphors!)
And sometimes, ‘why can’t they see?’ should be expressed as, ‘why can’t we see?’ Why can’t we see that we aren’t clear in expressing the facts; why can’t we see that we are out of step with our opponents; why can’t we see that we’ve chosen an argument we can’t win, a debate we shouldn’t have participated in, an opponent who doesn’t deserve us, and yes, perhaps, a hostile audience that should have been avoided at all costs?