Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower mag demonizes skeptics

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

A 2011 piece from the Jehovah’s Witness publication The Watchtower considers apostates to be mentally diseased criminals who should be shunned and avoided.

A frequent criticism of organized religion I and others voice is that religion often creates division. While creating division does not necessarily make particular religious ideas false, one can focus on the harm that is caused by religion when talking about its divisive nature.

Personally, I’ve encountered a large amount of vitriol from religious individuals (some of whom are family members) in my community following my activism for separation of church and state – most prominently in 2009 when I objected to a nativity scene placed on county courthouse property. A local disc jockey, on his radio show, called me the ‘third most hated person in Luzerne County‘ (only to be ‘topped’ by two judges implicated in the infamous Kids for Cash scandal) reflecting the outlook of many in my community who sent me hate mail (physical and electronic), tried to interfere with my education/scholarships, and sent nasty letters to my parents.

I have maintained that if the Christian faith (or any religious belief for that matter) is based in truth, individual believers should welcome critical discussion and be prepared, as the Bible says, to answer objections. Shouldn’t one be sure about what they believe if they want to dedicate their lives to a belief? I began a journey listening to criticisms of the religious beliefs I held and determined that there is no good reason to believe the Christian god exists after finding significant objections — unsatisfactorily answered by Christians — and determining that the reasons Christians provide for belief in God are not sufficient to justify belief.

It’s often the case that those who question religious belief are demonized – portrayed as agents of Satan trying to ruin the lives of Christians – bringing them down the wrong path in life. A piece titled ‘Will You Pay Attention to Jehovah’s Clear Warnings‘ in 2011 issue of The Watchtower — a Jehovah’s Witness publication — is a clear example of this. Apostates — people who have abandoned religious faith — are compared to and/or considered ‘false teachers,’ ‘wolves that eat the sheep,’ ‘criminals,’ ‘mentally diseased’ people, ‘and ‘gossipers.’

The Watchtower provides advice about how Jehovah’s Witnesses should deal with such ‘false teachers,’

“We do not speak to them or invite them into our houses. We do not read their books, watch them on television, read what they write on the Internet, or add our own comments about what they write on the Internet. Why are we do determined to avoid them? First of all, it is because we love “the God of truth.” So we do not want to listen to false teachings that go against the truth in God’s word.”

The divisive nature of religious belief is apparent when viewing this passage; the message for Jehovah’s Witnesses is to shun those who disagree on matters of religious belief. Witnesses are not to even respond to or be friends with ‘false teachers.’

Personally, I’m friends with many religious people. It’s almost never been the case — barring some fringe cases of extreme disrespect almost certainly due to religious beliefs — that because I was aware someone was religious I abandoned a friendship or refused to talk to a person. On the contrary, I enjoy interactions with people I disagree with whether the disagreement falls in the realm of religion, politics, law, or other areas.

 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

The religious person who refuses to interact with sincere non-believers* or people questioning religious faith seems weak in their religious beliefs and very likely worse off for not examining their own beliefs. Openness to experience, exposure to a variety of ideas, and a rigorous examination of one’s core beliefs are almost always beneficial and critical to self-development.

If religious belief cannot stand inquiry and must be abandoned, religious believes will be better off – holding beliefs better reflecting the way the world actually is. If reasons for religious belief are based in truth and atheists must abandon their non-belief, atheists will be better off.

Don’t demonize people merely because they disagree with you on matters of religion. Do not let religion be a more divisive force than it already is.

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

* By sincere non-believer, I mean a person who appears to be genuinely interested in a meaningful discussion. I don’t believe everyone should answer or take seriously people who do not appear sincere in their criticisms or are extremely disrespectful/attacking persons. A burden of responding to every person would also be unreasonable.

My thoughts on God’s Not Dead film

The movie ‘God’s Not Dead’ portrays non-Christians as monsters and does a disservice to Christians.

I must admit that I missed the hype surrounding the movie ‘God’s Not Dead‘ when it had released in theaters. Today, after becoming aware that the movie released on DVD, I rented the film and took copious notes planning to — as an atheist — combat the negative stereotypes I knew were on display in this film.

Almost every identified non-Christian in the film including a businessman, a philosophy professor, a reporter, and a Muslim father is portrayed as a monster.

An atheistic businessman fails to provide directions to his significant other — following her GPS being stolen — saying ‘what is in it for me,’ calls his significant other ‘not just another pretty face,’ says — upon finding his significant other developed cancer — ‘can this wait until tomorrow’ showing a complete disregard for her well-being in addition to saying ‘you are changing our [relationship] agreement and breaking the deal.’ The businessman ridicules love saying that it is overused and implies that people who love need to ‘grow up.’ He also repeatedly ridicules an elderly woman diagnosed with dementia (both in and not in her presence) and explains that seeing her is a waste of time.

An atheistic philosophy professor takes delight in failing his Christian students, ridicules his Christian students in front of others, assigns a disproportionate amount of homework to his Christian students, tells a Christian student that he plans to prevent him from attaining a pre-law degree, has a romantic relationship with a current students, fails to acknowledge others’ feelings of grief, implies that atheists cannot have relationships with Christians, repeatedly ridicules his girlfriend in front of others, says life is “full of nothing,” and shows almost every sign of being closed-minded.

An atheistic reporter is unprofessional, asks loaded questions, ridicules people during her interviews, claims that people are offended because Christians pray, and has no answer for where she derives hope in her life.

A Muslim father abuses his daughter and kicks her out of his house — not before slapping her in the face two times — because she listens to Bible readings.

Christians too, although they are often portrayed as heroic throughout the movie, don’t receive a great shake. When a philosophy professor is stricken by a vehicle and is dying, one person suggests someone call an ambulance, but almost no attention besides this suggestion (no one on screen used a cell phone although, at various other parts in the movie, cell phones are shown) is paid to physical well-being. Instead, the mission is to convert — as if belief in the Christian god is like a lightswitch which could be turned on and off — a dying person and a scene of death is regaled as a “gift,” “God’s mercy,” “a cause for celebration” (because a conversion happened…although someone died), and “joy” (because someone was said to have entered Heaven.”

Christians advance extremely poor arguments and assertions throughout the movie: ‘no one can disprove God exists’ (swapping burden of proof, appeal to ignorance), ‘science is wrong [we can’t trust scientists because ideas were revised]’ (ignoring the fact that belief revision is a strength and a sign of progress rather than a weakness), ‘there is no credible explanation for the universe without appeals to god’ (another appeal to ignorance – just because something is unexplained does not mean we can assert God did it), ‘if the universe created you who created the universe’ (begging the question – one is assuming God created the universe while arguing for such a claim), appeals to [inappropriate] authority (rejecting claims Stephen Hawking — a non-philosopher — makes about philosophy does not undermine philosophy or arguments against theism), and so much more…

The atheistic philosophy professor — called an expert in his discipline by his peers — says he hates God (rather than saying, as the Christian later did, that he doesn’t hate God but rather doesn’t believe God exists because the reasons Christians provide are inadequate) and does not even provide an accurate definition of atheism (he says atheism is the belief that there is no god).

The movie ends, saying the film was inspired by stories of Christians being condemned because of their faith, and generally cast Christians as persecuted individuals. This movie, cast as a drama, is more accurately thought of as a fantasy – that Christians are continually persecuted for their religious beliefs in America (when this is actually not the case) and atheists are monsters.

Might the Christian viewers, failing to be critical of themes presented in the movie, walk away thinking that they may cannot and should not have loving relationships with atheists – people who, in the movie, severely mistreat their partners? The movie even references the Bible verse urging believers to not be “unequally yoked” with dark and wicked unbelievers.

Sadly, Christians possess negative stereotypes about atheists — many of them on display in this film — and these may translate to real-world situations (beliefs do impact actions after all). This film ironically vindicates atheists’ claims that religion is often harmful because it warps moral priorities and causes division.

Many atheists — contrary to the message of ‘God’s Not Dead’ — can and do live meaningful, hopeful, positive, healthy, thoughtful, motivated lives. Atheists can and do have love for others, maintain positive relationships, express empathy, help others in need, treat people with fairness regardless of their religious beliefs, and examine others’ beliefs with philosophical rigor.

If you’re interested in more worthwhile philosophical discussion than that which was on display in the movie, please consider reading David Hume’s classic “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” (not to be confused with the non-existent piece ‘Problem of Induction’) and watching my debates and discussions with Christians who presented themselves far better than those in this movie. I can continue with my thoughts, but would rather not surpass 1000 words.

Consider also reading commentary on this film authored by Dr. David Kyle Johnson.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Vandals attempt aggravated arson on FFRF billboard

ffrfSaturnA group of vandals recently attempted to maliciously burn a holiday billboard placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) reading “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia,” placed in response to religious advertising, using gasoline.

‘Tis the season for secular and atheist organizations in the United States to advertise – mainly in response to religious messages and decorations in government-controlled areas and elsewhere; secular and atheist organizations lawfully respond to free speech with free speech.

Unfortunately, religious individuals who don’t like speech from atheist and secular organizations — rather than tolerating the speech or lawfully erecting displays of their own — often choose the path of vandalism, censorship, and intimidation.

According to an FFRF press release — coupled with a police report and reporting from South Jersey Times — two individuals tossed gasoline on the FFRF display and lit it. The fire, though, did not stay lit while the perpetrators fled. Police are now paying extra attention to the FFRF billboard and the FFRF is offering a $2000 reward for more information leading to the arrest and conviction of perpetrators.

Sadly, acts of vandalism and contempt toward atheists/secularists like these are far too common. Type “FFRF vandalism” on Google to see many examples including a personal experience of my own, described below.

In 2012, I worked with the FFRF to display a banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre which was later vandalized by an individual who gleefully appeared on television, in a news interview, admitting his crime. Following the placement of this banner, I was pictured in a flyer which appeared in Wilkes-Barre next to Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. …but yet I am, according to a radio show host, the one with a “strong element of hate.” Find more information in the category ‘FFRF banner‘ on this website.

vandalized banner
vandalized banner

I suspect that hatred and misunderstanding informs these acts of censorship and vandalism. Many religious individuals, throughout their lives, from my experience, have not thoughtfully engaged with arguments against religious belief nor had thoughtful, respectful conversations with non-believers.

Rather than resorting to theft, vandalism of property, and personal attacks, reach out to those with whom you disagree or — at the very least — read what they publish online. While messages placed by atheists in the public sphere may be ‘biting’ toward those who have strongly held religious beliefs, this is no excuse to resort to unlawful conduct. Take a step back from what you may perceive as an ‘attack on your beliefs’ and instead think about why you make take offense.

First, messages like “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” are not attacks on individuals, but rather are challenges to beliefs. The Bible, in 1 Peter 3:15 directs Christians to, when their beliefs are challenged, “prepare a defense and do so with gentleness and respect.” Those who believe their faith is strong should be prepared to respond to challenges and be steadfast in their response provided there are good, justifying reasons for religious belief. If you find that reasons for your religious beliefs are not good enough to withstand challenges, it should be time to reconsider your beliefs and investigate what people of a difference persuasion are saying.

facebook_1363100245Anyway, religious individuals do not have a monopoly on holiday displays. Non-religious individuals may advertise their messages — just like religious individuals — and should be permitted to do so without interference. In a free society, we must learn to — at the very least — co-exist with other individuals and tolerate others’ speech we may dislike. We need not affirm, agree with, or endorse others’ speech we disagree with and can — if we are so passionate — lawfully respond with messages of our own rather than pursuing vandalism and censorship likely informed by hatred.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Blood-sucking circumcision practice continues

The topic of infant male circumcision is controversial in many circles; some deem it as ‘male genital mutilation’ or ‘forced mutilation of boys’ while others consider circumcision to be a harmless and healthy procedure (this post won’t be about the merits of either position). Persons in both camps of thought may be able to object to an ‘ancient Jewish ritual’ deemed metzitzah b’pheh in which a grown Jewish man — a mohel — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “places his mouth directly on the newly circumcised penis and sucks blood away from the circumcision.”

New York City’s Board of Health, being quite aware of this practice and the possible dangers it can result in, has not put a stop to this oral section ritual or place restrictions on circumcision practices, but rather has simply asked mohels “to provide parents with a document informing them of the possibility of harm” according to New York Daily News. Even if waivers are not signed, the article says, there are no penalties.

The author writing the referred to article noted that New York City has struck an appropriate balance when considering balancing governmental authority and religious doctrine. Read More

My protest of “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in Scranton, PA

Here I am at the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in Scranton, PA with my protest sign also promoting the NEPA Freethought Society’s website. In this post, in a narrative fashion of sorts, I will provide some of my thoughts concerning the rally and recount some of my protesting experience. I can write for hours about the bad arguments (and responses to my arguments) posed to me, but I won’t do this and instead focus on some tidbits of my experience. Aside from my thoughts, the end of this post includes local print media coverage of the event via reporter Rich Howells writing for Go Lackawanna in which I was interviewed.

Read More