Rick Warren does not speak for me

I was pleased and surprised to hear nonbelievers mentioned in Obama’s inaugural address, the first time to my limited historical knowledge that such a mention has occurred in a new President’s opening words to the nation. People argue over the numbers, but anywhere from several percent to one in four Americans is an atheist, agnostic, or unassociated with any formal religious group or organization. Our numbers are legion, as the saying goes. So it was pleasing to finally be recognized as an existing sector of society, instead of the more common assumption on the part of our leaders that everyone in the entire country believes in gigantic fictional characters in the sky.

Watching Obama get sworn in was a thrilling and emotional experience for me, marred only by the lugubrious and maudlin spectacle of Rick Warren embarrassing our nation in front of the world. Putting aside for the moment Warren’s atavistic urge to lock gays in irons and have them publicly flogged, he is still an offensive, corpulent slug. His peculiar style of self-congratulating self-flagellation is even more loathsome than your typical monotheist, and a perfect example of why organized religion is such a debilitating mental affliction.

Warren belongs to that particularly cloying faction of Christianity that claims nothing you accomplish in your entire life has any meaning whatsoever, unless you hand over credit to Yhwh. You can’t be proud of anything you accomplish, in Warren’s theology. You’re a powerless, helpless slave to the eternal Cosmic Puppeteer, who deserves credit and praise for every single positive contribution you’ve made in your entire life. No matter that it was you and you alone who studied and strove to earn a degree, or learn a profession, or sweat in backbreaking labor for minimal pay. That wasn’t you, and even if it was you still don’t deserve recognition. You’re a piece of garbage compared with the mighty Slave Master in the sky. Whatever you invent, build, or lead, whatever great works you contribute to, whatever good you strive to accomplish in life…  in Warren’s twisted ideology those efforts don’t go on your resume. You were just a convenient tool to be picked up, used, and thrown away on a whim. According to Warren and his coreligionists, everything humans accomplish is instantly confiscated by an invisible, intangible creature who is omnipotent but apparently too lazy to do its own work. Nothing is beyond Its breadth and purpose and power, yet It craves your worship.

In Warren’s own words, “Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.”

I disagree.

History is the story of uncounted human beings trying to live their lives and care for their families. Whatever cosmic powers lurk in the frigid darkness between stars can take care of themselves, because they’ve certainly never taken care of us. Our species arose on the plains of Africa, dining on grubs and carrion, until we learned how to pick up sticks and make them our tools. We evolved through bloody ages of famine, disease, and the mindless brutality of nature. We learned to out-hunt other hunters, and out-fight predators that would dine on us. We gained a following of other species who live off our largess, carrying our burdens and fetching our food, exterminating vermin for us and warming themselves by our fires. We became the brilliant, violent, contradictory ruling predators of Earth through our own hard work. Beyond the laws of physics themselves we have no master, and kneel before no throne.

If there are arcane powers watching us in the dark, they keep their own silent council, and we owe them no thanks. Did they teach us to farm, or turn wild horses into engines of harnessed strength? No, we did that ourselves. Did they show us how to turn moldy bread into lifesaving medicine? No, we did that, several thousand years after inventing bread for ourselves, too. Did they instruct us on how to fire rocks to make iron? No, we were left to figure that out for ourselves, piecemeal. We discovered the moons of Jupiter, while the self-styled agents of God dined in splendor on the labor of others, and refused to question their supremacy by looking through a telescope. We sussed out that things are made of atoms, while priests argued about angels on pinheads. We cracked the code of life, and we desperately worked out methods of feeding billions… while pious ingrates told us to keep having babies, famine be damned.

Religion is filth not only because it is demonstrably wrong, not only because it enshrines ignorance, but because it demands that humans eschew credit for their own work and abase themselves before gods who never lifted so much as a holy fingertip to get us where we are today. The very people who scream most loudly for us to credit the Invisibles for our success are the ones who work the least to ensure that success. Warren and his festering kindred are happy to sit back on their bejeweled thrones and tell the rest of us how to live and what to think, as they put their hands out for our wealth. Sometimes religious leaders like Warren will give over a bit of their riches to help a poor person here, a penniless clinic there, but always with sanctimonious strings attached. “If you take our donations,” they sneer, “you must take our sermons, too.” Charity for its own sake, despite protestations to the contrary, is not on the agenda.

I am a nonbeliever because I see no objective evidence for astral powers ruling the world. Instead I see the fruits of hard work and clever thoughts delivering the bounty of the universe to our species, saving us in times of horror, perpetuating our endeavors toward the future. If a god showed up today and claimed those accomplishments as its own I would spit in its face, or at the very least I would work with other free peoples to thwart and destroy the designs of such a monstrous parasite.

Gods and devils don’t start wars and murder millions, but people who believe in them do. Angels don’t drift down to Earth and wander about curing diseases. Doctors and scientists work their lives away to do that. Flaming pillars don’t hand out moral codes. Figuring out how to live in peace with each other and not go around hurting one another is our job, as a culture and as a species. Until and unless aliens arrive to show us how to act – or to put collars around our necks, which is more likely – we’re on our own. If there are demon monsters haunting our hearts they don’t come from the Great Beyond, on golden chariots, craving and claiming our worship… they come from our flawed, animal brains. And those too can be rebuilt according to our wishes, once we learn how.

No, Warren does not speak for me. Not even remotely.

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~ by Planetologist on January 22, 2009.

9 Responses to “Rick Warren does not speak for me”

  1. […] to at length, despite not really intending to write so much. Recently a comment in response to my screed against Rick Warren prompted a comment that invoked the M word… […]

  2. “Tristan: Yes, I wish we in the US had the kind of Christianity that most of Western Europe does now… irrelevant politically, fading away,”

    EU Parliament:
    European People’s Party – largest EU party, self-declared christian democratic political organization

    Germany (as the most important EU country):
    Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union – governing parties

    Other than these, there are more than 50 parties in 30 European countries, that find it important to declare that they are following on christian democratic ideology and moral roots.

    “mostly ritual and empty buildings.”

    True, number of people who go to church has plummeted (except for muslims). Number of people who consider themselves theist remains approximately the same. (In my country 16% goes to church, 80% is theist). That’s fine with me, it’s not important the churches are full, what’s important that people see beyond matter, and organize their lives accordingly.

    “Harmless folk culture. But to get there Europe had to fight through long, bloody centuries. I simply want to skip that phase in the US, if possible.”

    That’s understandable. I wish you all the best with secularization, that’s how all democracies should work.
    On a side note, blaming Christianity for the bloody centuries of European history is a terrible misinterpretation.

    “I understand your point about gods supposedly not being provable or non-provable… this is a position taken by many people, and many scientists, but it’s a cop-out in my opinion. Anything that is real can be demonstrated. All religions make strong factual claims about there being an omnipotent mastermind behind everything, and prefer that explanation over simpler models of the universe.”

    As long as the materialist point of view can’t explain general questions regarding the Universe (or multiverse), claiming that “only matter/energy exist” is a positive statement, therefore it has to be proved just as “mater/energy and a conscious God” is a statement.

    “That claim and the predictions that flow from it can be tested. So far, all tests have failed.”

    Matter/energy can’t explain its own existence. In fact, its genesis is contradicting its own nature. there gotta be other tings (one option is God). I still exist (I have tested it 🙂 ). Cogito ergo sum. Thus my test for the existence of things beyond energy/matter have passed (one option is God). Another option is the unknown nature of energy/matter+/-space. You can believe in that, too. You can have faith in that…. Actually, atheism is blind faith in that…

    “The framers of ancient religions made predictions about things they couldn’t possibly have had the intrinsic means to experience. Those predictions are either correct or incorrect. Let’s test some of these predictions:”

    Religious philosophy and material science both evolve. I’m not going to abandon science because Lord Kelvin stated that it is impossible to make a flying object from material that is more dense than air. The Catholic Church now teaches evolution in its schools. Some @ssholes teach Global Flood pseudoscience. I regret that you can’t make the distinction between us.

    “That’s great, people can believe what they want. But if those beliefs are asserted publicly with the intent of their forming the basis of public policy, evidence is required. It’s really that simple.”

    I completely agree.

    “I object to Warren because he used the singular honor of his requested official public function to inappropriately proselytize. I think it was shoddy behavior, both presumptuous and embarrassing. He was invited there to do the nation’s business, not hawk his church.”

    Right… and I commented because you were generalizing.

    “You can’t prove one way or the other,” is a cheap cop-out. You can’t ever prove a negative, but to use that fact as an argument in favor of something is ridiculous.’

    see above.

    “In my opinion this is the tack atheists should take with believers; to simply point out that science is a probability game, not an absolute proof game.”

    If we played that probability game, we would end up with the conclusion that we live in one of the Worlds in an infinite Multiverse.
    Any other assumptions would lead to basic contradictions regarding our scientific explanations of our Universe. That ain’t that realistic either, isn’t? Theistic model already looks just a littlebit better.

    • Nope. There will be no Gish Gallups on this blog. No throwing out of ten different fallacious arguments, hoping the moderator (me) hasn’t the time to address them all, then when he (I) does, just throw out five more for each point addressed. Mathematically, by this method the galloper wins by default. Well, not here.

      To nip this diseased flower in the bud, I’ll cut to the core fallacy: materialism. I’m sorry to break this to you, but there isn’t any such thing. It doesn’t exist. By that I mean it is fictional, imaginary. No scientist looks at a spread of data and says “hmmm, according to a materialist frame of reference my data signifies X…”. That does not happen. Ever. The term materialism is a made-up word used by theists when they have run out of arguments… and since they don’t have any arguments to begin with, “materialism” gets trotted out fairly quickly in most cases. Using the term materialism lends imaginary credence to the idea that there is a serious branch of study focusing on “non-materialism”… that there is a “material” part of the universe and a demonstrably “non-material” part. The problem with this setup becomes apparent the first time someone tries to pin down a definition for either. What is “material” and what is “immaterial”? According to theists, immaterial things include gods, angels, demons, souls, perhaps ghosts, sometimes faeries. These things, we are told by theists, are immaterial but real, and only our closed-minded refusal to see the real world as it truly is separates us from the ranks of the enlightened faithful. If only we would open our minds, they say, we’d be able to bathe in the light of true understanding. Usually, at that point, Shakespeare’s quote about more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, etc., gets trotted out.

      Sorry, no. Which of the following is more open-minded: 1) asserting that one simply knows, absolutely and beyond any possibility of falsification, that gods, ghosts and ectoplasmic spirit substance exists, or 2) observing that no reliable models for how anything works, anywhere and at any time, require an immaterial explanation, therefore immaterial things probably aren’t really there… but that if good evidence were to come forth, we’d all have an interesting new branch of physics to study? Which of those is the more closed-minded position? If someone is a theist, obviously the second option is more closed-minded, because no theist true believer will ever admit to the possibility that stories told to them from childhood were told to them by people who learned them through the same channel of hearsay, and that they’ve based their life and wasted their energy on a fiction.

      What evidence is there to support the theist’s model of immaterial things? That we don’t fully understand every aspect of the Big Bang? That the lack of absolute knowledge allows one to insert whatever the hell one wants? Seriously? That’s an argument from ignorance, a god of the gaps fallacy. Basically, that point of view asserts: “We don’t understand what happened before the Big Bang, therefore I understand what happened before the Big Bang.” Sorry, but no you don’t. Lacking data about some high-level physics problem does not give one a logical basis upon which to assert some ridiculously even-more-complicated model of a cosmic superintelligence. It does not follow, nor does it lead rationally to the assumption of a benevolent Overmind about which one has highly specific information about its motivation, intent, wishes, and its propensity to answer prayers. It is simply astounding that theists cannot see the self-evident absurdity of their position.

      I have no problem with the universe being bigger than I can understand or imagine. I don’t assume I have all the answers, nor do I assume that childhood fables prepare me to offhandedly contradict the sum of human knowledge because I find some of its conclusions unsettling. When I put my ego aside and try to examine things rationally, I see no evidence whatsoever for “immaterial” objects or forces. If you have such evidence then please bring it forward. I’m fairly sure we’d all like to see it. But keep in mind that personal imaginary experiences of voices in the dark, or dreams, or a warm fuzzy feeling, or appeals to tradition, or appeals to ignorance, or convoluted psychomasturbatory arguments from pre-industrial greybeards do not constitute evidence.

      Scientists – good scientists – try not to assert positively that there is no ectoplasmic dimension to reality, they simply note that such a model is not required by anything we understand so far, nor is there an obvious place where it could fit, nor do we reliably observe the kinds of phenomena that would probably be commonplace if such an immaterial realm existed. The only honest conclusion to be drawn is that the supernatural is fictional. Theists, on the other hand, really do make routine, positive assertions that things exist without a single tiny mote of supporting evidence. They see gaps in our knowledge and are perfectly happy to leap right into those gaps and declare the problem solved by fiat, then shake their heads in sorrow at the poor, dogmatic, close-minded scientist.

  3. Damn straight.

    “You can’t prove one way or the other,” is a cheap cop-out. You can’t ever prove a negative, but to use that fact as an argument in favor of something is ridiculous.

    And Rick Warren is a scumbag. That’s not a cultural misunderstanding, because I used to be an evangelical myself. I know that culture quite well, thanks very much. My understanding of life inside the evangelical culture does nothing to change my mind about Warren’s raging scumbag-ness.

    • The “can’t disprove God” idea is also a logical fallacy, along the same lines of someone claiming Bigfoot exists because you or I couldn’t prove it doesn’t exist. People get wrapped up in proof, but like I teach my students; science isn’t about proof, it’s about assessing the odds. Absolute proof exists only in mathematics. Science in the real world deals with collecting evidence and using that evidence to address questions. If the sum total of human understanding of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, evolution, geology, etc. do not need to include miraculous events to explain observed phenomena, we’ve essentially painted ourselves into an evidentiary corner. All reliable and reproducible observations about the universe point away from a god hypothesis… away from the idea the universe is artificial. As a result the odds are extremely low – not precisely zero, but vanishingly low – that the universe is a constructed artifact with a creating intelligence that takes sides in tribal wars and disapprovingly watches everyone have sex.

      In my opinion this is the tack atheists should take with believers; to simply point out that science is a probability game, not an absolute proof game. The science is in, and it knocks down every primitive tribal just-so creation story so far proposed. The universe appears to every careful and verifiable observation as if basic natural laws have interacted to yield the structure of reality. The odds are dramatically skewed against the deistic model. Those skewed odds are based on a gigantic see-saw with the ponderous bulk of all human scientific knowledge on the heavy end of the board, and the feathery emptiness of ancient folk hearsay on the other end.

  4. With respect, I believe I understood Warren quite clearly.

    Tristan: Yes, I wish we in the US had the kind of Christianity that most of Western Europe does now… irrelevant politically, fading away, mostly ritual and empty buildings. Harmless folk culture. But to get there Europe had to fight through long, bloody centuries. I simply want to skip that phase in the US, if possible.

    I understand your point about gods supposedly not being provable or non-provable… this is a position taken by many people, and many scientists, but it’s a cop-out in my opinion. Anything that is real can be demonstrated. All religions make strong factual claims about there being an omnipotent mastermind behind everything, and prefer that explanation over simpler models of the universe. Like it or not, the god hypothesis makes a factual assertion about how reality is organized, at a fundamental level. That claim and the predictions that flow from it can be tested. So far, all tests have failed.

    The framers of ancient religions made predictions about things they couldn’t possibly have had the intrinsic means to experience. Those predictions are either correct or incorrect. Let’s test some of these predictions.

    Through honestly examining the evidence we’ve discovered that our planet is not 6,000 years old, it’s 4.6 billion years old. Fail. The world does not have four corners, and there isn’t a shell over our heads with stars embedded in it. Fail. All life didn’t suddenly appear very recently in its present form, intact, from dust. Instead it is apparent that life evolved through understandable and predictable processes over a very long time. Fail.

    Factual predictions made by ancient texts fail to describe reality using a theistic model. The theistic models of individual religions make specific claims about actions performed by a superbeing, and those predictions have been shown false. The tests laid out by the major supporting theistic narratives such as the Bible, the Koran, the Bhaghavad Gita, the Iliad and Odyssey, the Ulster Cycle, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Kalevala (as examples) show negative results. Therefore without positive evidence supporting the factual claim that the universe is artificial and its Creator dabbles in events, that claim must be discarded until supporting evidence is forthcoming. In short, the ‘god hypothesis’ models a world that is very different from ours.

    I understand that people sometimes claim experiences that have proven to their satisfaction that a god or gods are running the world and have big plans. That’s great, people can believe what they want. But if those beliefs are asserted publicly with the intent of their forming the basis of public policy, evidence is required. It’s really that simple.

    I object to Warren because he used the singular honor of his requested official public function to inappropriately proselytize. I think it was shoddy behavior, both presumptuous and embarrassing. He was invited there to do the nation’s business, not hawk his church.

  5. I acknowledge your fight on religious fundamentalism and bigotry. When I argue with you I try to keep in mind that your blog tries to send a message to a society which is infected with religious radicalism and its trying to challenge scientific and technological development, as opposed to Western and Central Europe where religion has transformed into a more reasonable form (more or less). Still, I would much appreciate it if your statements were more differentiated.
    Making general statements, and linking moderate religious folks to idiots like Warren, is like linking atheists to suicidal nihilists.

    Also two small philosophical things :

    “Religion is filth not only because it is demonstrably wrong” – I thought it is agreed that neither the existence or non-existence of God can be demonstrated…. neither the rightness of most of the modern mass religions.

    “Humans eschew credit for their own work and abase themselves before gods who never lifted so much as a holy fingertip to get us where we are today” – If God exists then It did lift its holy fingertip to get us where we are today, by bring us and our World into existence. Therefore the logic behind giving credit to God for our own work is right, if we are in a belief system permitting Its existence.

  6. i think you really have misunderstood warren, I am going to chalk it up to cultural misunderstanding, because athiests and Christians have some cultural miscommunications going on.

  7. Well spoken!

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