I’m a Satanist?

I stumbled across the blog Debunking Atheists recently, and though I’ve just started to read it, I think it will be a faily interesting site to interact with.  One of the first posts I came across was Atheists are Satanists!

One of the reasons Dan’s blog is fascinating is that he holds the same certainty about his faith that many skeptics and atheists hold of theirs.  Though I’ve stated this before, a skeptic does not, ideally, dismiss any viewpoint a priori. Obviously, I have a conclusion of my own, but I would argue, or at least hope, that my conclusion stays the same — if indeed it does so — because logic and evidence continue to support it, not because I attempt to contort logic and evidence to fit my preconceived notions.  I would hope that Dan believes in a similar methodology, except that his conclusion is opposite to mine.

Anyway, to this post specifically.  Read it; it’s not long.  In summary, Dan describes an interaction he had with a poster on a different blog in which the commenter suggested that a theist might compare an atheist to a satanist, and, as a response, Dan did exactly that.  Here’s an excerpt from Dan’s end of the conversation.

Now, don’t get all mad at us because we point out the fact that both atheists and satanists (LaVeyan Satanism) worship the same god, “self”. LaVeyan Satanists consider themselves “their own god.” (They are atheistic.)

The essence of Satanism is more of living by your own standards. Satanism promotes indulgence, free thinking, and skepticism. It shuns stupidity and conformity. Sound familiar?

For the most part no one can tell the difference if you two are in a room describing your beliefs. Sad.”

Boy, it’s tough to even know where to begin with this.  In the first paragraph, he directly contradicts himself by saying that someone can worship a god (even if that god is their own self) and be an atheist.  Second, the suggestions that atheists worship themselves or consider themselves as “gods” if absurd on its face.  I’m a secular humanist which means, among other things, that I hold hope in humanity’s ability to make itself better.  I don’t think that we need a god to improve us — we only need to work harder and towards a more common goal.  That is absolutely as close as I and, I think, moth atheists would come to “self-worship.”  And it is hardly that.

The second paragraph implies that atheists are further like satanists because we support a list of similar qualities.  I would argue that atheists don’t inherently promote indulgence — certainly, we would say that decisions like whether or not to masturbate or to have pre-marital sex or to use profanity are personal decisions based on your personal feelings on and the best evidence for the harmful or beneficial results of those actions.  We do not reject them because a religious organization tells us we ought to, and will be condemned if we do not.  But that is certainly not encouraging indulgence.

As to the rest of the ideas listed in paragraph two, they to relate, I think, to most atheists, at least not the violently a priori atheists.  I don’t know much about satanism, but I would guess that most forms of it don’t promote skepticism — they have little scientific data to support their belief in Satan, and so it would seem that they are certainly not skeptical of their own beliefs.  I would also note that I do not promote nonconformity for the sake of being nonconformist. I certainly recommend a healthy refusal to conform to crap beliefs.  The word conform connotates with mindless acceptance, which I certainly reject, but I see no problem with “conforming” or accepting beliefs that are supported by logic and evidence and that you yourself have critically examined.  As such, I wouldn’t recommend “disconforming” to the theory of gravity simply because most people accept it.

The final paragraph is so patently absurd that it hardly deserves comment.  But, my comment, still, is this: really?  No one could tell the difference between the beliefs of an atheist and a satanist if they were each describing their own beliefs?  I have a few questions I might ask these two if I sat them down: Do you believe in Satan?  Do you believe in supernatural occurrences based solely on personal and anecdotal evidence?   Do you believe in an afterlife?  Do you worship a non-physical being?  And that’s just a start.  A simple logical test completely destroys that assertion.  I would say it’s almost silly, except that it is plainly silly.

To pull one more quote from Dan’s post.

So, if you think about it real hard, the first being to reject God, the first atheist, was Satan himself.

First, this statement is a historical claim based entirely on one ancient document and personal faith.  Even assuming it’s accurate, Dan’s statement that Satan was an atheist is either a willful attempt to assert the logical fallacy of guilt by association, or an ignorant misunderstanding of what it means to be an atheist.  To restate myself, generally, the position of an atheist is that no convincing argument of the existence of a god has ever been put forward.  (Perhaps there are militant atheists who would reject a god in the face of overwhelming evidence, but for me, and I think most atheists, our conclusion that there is no god is a provisional one that persists in the absence of good evidence.)  Satan may have been the first being to hate or reject God to his face, but I do neither of those things: I am not angry at God, and I do not reject him to his face because I have never been given a plausible image of it.

In summary, to equate the Christian idea of Satan to an average atheist is at best sadly ignorant and, at worst, deliberately deceptive with the intent of winning one’s own argument through blatant logical fallacy.

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Bill Johnson Article

[ I changed themes, and now the formatting on this post is all messed up…I don’t have time to fix it right now — I will soon.  – MB ]

Here’s a January, 2010 article by reporter Amanda Winters I came across on the CERM website, which itself reposted it from Redding.com, a local news site out of Redding, CA, home of Bethel Church.

For its part, CERM is a Christian site, and though I do not agree with the vast majority of their writings, they stand profoundly against what they call the “word of faith” teachings, and I found it striking that this article on Bethel Church was reposted on a Christian site. (There will be time for discussing the intra-Christian debates on healing and resurrection in due course.)

Winters’s article speaks mostly for itself, so I’ll pull just a few quotes from it, and briefly comment on them.

Adam Short, a 28-year-old from North Carolina, runs http://www.Healingherald.org where he posts stories of miraculous healings from the Healing Rooms and beyond.

Short is a third-year intern at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) and said he has received words of knowledge and signs from God leading him to people who needed to be healed. [ … ] Short said his goal for the Web site is for people to be encouraged by the good news and not question it. “Nobody ever questions bad news,” he said. [pp. 2,3]

I think it’s worth noting,  that Short does not want people to question his stories.  I don’t think you have to be an extremely skeptical person to acknowledge that someone telling you flat out not to question what they have to say is full of crap.

“If you’re sitting here and you say, ‘I’ve been deaf in my left ear since childbirth,’ and I pray for you and then I have you close your right ear and I whisper 10 feet away and you can hear me, I don’t feel like I need to get a doctor’s report,” he said. “I’m happy you’re happy you can hear. That’s enough for me.” [p. 3]

Here’s a link to the wikipedia entry about confirmation bias.  (I’ll have my wikipedia policy up and running in a few days.)   If the person thinks they’re going to be healed, wants to be, hopes to be, in some cases needs to be for their faith to survive, it is no surprise that they will confirm the healing, whether such a confirmation is justified or not.

Of course, we can’t talk about Bethel Church without mentioning Bill Johnson.

Though he had people praying for his hernia to heal early in 2009, the condition still required surgery and Johnson said that was OK because God can use doctors as well as he can use Bethel’s healing teams, though both are necessary.

“The doctors serve a great purpose but they’ll tell you they can’t fix everything,” he said. “Some things need to be fixed by a miracle or just aren’t fixed at all.” [p. 3]

A few other sources on the hernia surgery are here, here, and, importantly, here.  Such behavior certainly fits the pattern: claim that healing occurs, and when it doesn’t, justify it by saying that God can use doctors, too.  I’ll actually agree with the last part of his quote: there are certain things that doctors can’t fix, and that is why humans do not live forever.

Winters doesn’t delve too deeply into some of Johnson’s broader resurrection claims (on which I will post in the future), but does mention what he calls the Dead Raising Team, or DRT.  There seems to be a bit of misunderstanding as to what the DRT actually accomplishes, Winters deserves to be quoted at length.

Johnson said the team got approval from Mason County to be listed along with other county services and had been given badges so they can go behind police lines if there’s an accident or fatality. Johnson told the audience, who erupted in shouts of “come on, Jesus” and cheers, that there had been one resurrection so far.

Marty Best, manager of the Mason County Department of Emergency Management, said he met the Dead Raising Team and suggested they become volunteers for his department so they could have access to emergency situations.

“Our mandate is to protect life, property and environment,” he said. “If a person is raised by a defibrillator and adrenaline or by prayer they still return to their loved ones.”

Best said the team must first get the permission of the unit commander before they can start praying over a fatality and they can never impose it on anyone.

In contrast to what Johnson said, the DRT is not included in the services listed on the Mason County Web sited.

Nor have there been any resurrections, Best said.

“Not yet,” he added.

Johnson said the resurrection he mentioned in his sermon was from a DRT report and that he never said it had happened behind police lines. [p. 4]

Sounds like a slam dunk for the Reddings DRTs.

Winters also cites a skeptic, Harriet Hall retired family physician and writer.  To her credit, Winters  gives more than just a token quote from the skeptical perspective.  Hall comments on a testimony from Bethel’s website.

“Where are the medical reports? Where are the X-rays? Why was this case not written up in a medical journal? What happened to the patient afterwards?” she said in an e-mail.

Hall said the Journal of the American Medical Association formerly featured a testimony of a patient who was cured of cancer on one page with the patient’s death certificate printed on the opposite page, showing that the patient had died of cancer shortly after providing the testimony.

Finally, Hall cuts to the core of the faith healing movement.

“If you challenge the pastor to participate in a formal study to establish that these healings are really occurring, you will get lots of rationalizations and backpedaling with no understanding of how science can go about testing for the truth of a claim,” she said. “They have no interest in finding out if the healing is ‘real’ because they already ‘know’ it is real for them.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Harriet.

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Raising the Dead

Something that’s come up a bit recently, mostly in Facebook conversations, is the issue of people raising others from the dead.  Something I find fascinating is that charismatic Christians love to make claims such as, “raising people from the dead is now commonplace,” and “God raises another from the dead!”  On the face of it, without any investigation, these claims seem remarkable.  If they are true, it seems, this would change everything.  Verifiable cases of raising a human being from the dead would be revolutionary.

Here’s one such testimonial that I stumbled across this morning on the Bethel Church website.

“Jon was driving on the freeway on Father’s Day with his cousin from Chicago, who had prayed the night before that God would use him. They were driving to Jon’s church on Sunday morning. There was a lot of traffic, and he saw two policemen zoom by on his right. There was a big accident. One car was on fire on the shoulder, its front smashed in. The other car also had a smashed front. Two guys were giving CPR to a woman on the ground, her boyfriend and someone else. The cops were already there, but the paramedics weren’t there yet. Jon and his cousin somehow were able to lay hands on her. As Jon was taking her pulse, she died in front of him. So he and his cousin started praying in tongues. Jon saw her spirit and an angel and demon fighting over it. God showed him that her soul was on the line, so Jon was contending for her. Twenty minutes later, she was alive! The policemen kept trying to get him to move away, but he wouldn’t. He kept contending for her soul.”

There are a few points in this story that have emerged as very common themes in any of the so-called resurrection stories I’ve read lately.  First, the resurrection occurs in a relatively brief period of time after the supposed death — twenty minutes in this case.  Second, the resurrected person was declared “dead” by someone with little or no medical expertise, and by someone with a strong motive for confirmation bias.  Third, the stories are anecdotal and completely unverifiable.

We can see themes expressed very clearly in this particular case.  First, the testimony claims that “twenty minutes” after death, the victim was alive again.  Obviously, there was no way that it could be confirmed that the victim was indeed dead, except by the person writing the testimony.  That leads directly to the second theme: the suggestion that simply because a passerby could not feel the victim’s pulse, the victim was therefore dead, is a complete non sequitur.  Accurately detecting a pulse is actually  something of a fine skill, particularly in a frantic situation, such as the one describe above.  Thus, it is entirely plausible that the victim was never indeed without a pulse.  And, of course, there is absolutely to verify the truth or accuracy of this story in any way.

Also note that the story does not state whether the “two guys” who were giving CPR ever stopped.

So, we can see that the rational explanation for these events, if the story is to believed at all, makes a hell of a lot more sense than a supernatural one.

More on resurrections in the future.

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