A response to an obnoxious “Open Letter to Atheists from a Megachurch Pastor”

ink-pen_orig_columnWallace Henley, pastor in the 60,000 member Second Baptist Church of Houston, has written an open letter at all Atheists as a supposed bit of guidance on how to respond to the daft suggestion of another Megachurch pastor John Hagee, that all Atheists should get on a plane and leave the US.

So what have we got then, does he disassociate himself from such lunacy and act like a decent human being? Nope not at all, it is simply an excuse for him to promote his utterly irrational belief as the bastion of all that is good and loving.

He offers 7 reasons (split across two articles – part1 here and part2 here) that are supposedly reasons for atheists to stay in the US, but in fact demonstrate an astonishing degree of ignorance and utter contempt towards people who do not embrace his irrational beliefs.

Curious about that? OK, let’s take a look at each of his seven reasons in turn.

1. The light is seen best against the backdrop of night.

And of course his belief is “the light” and everything else, such as those that do not believe due to the complete lack of evidence, is deemed to be darkness. To illustrate, there is a claim, a bit of cherry-picked opinion that has no basis in reality, that the light of belief has brought education to Africa.

In a rather stark contrast to his claim, belief has in fact simply replaced one superstition with another and by doing so has left a trail of death and misery … homophobia is now running rampant in Africa due the promotion of such bigotry by believers turning up to “educate” the locals, and AIDS is killing millions because belief dictates that the use of condoms, the one thing that could really help, is evil and must not be used. Need I perhaps remind him that “education” from believers also often involves the rejection of evidence-based science (evolution).

In essence, his assertion that his belief is “the light” and all else is darkness, is complete and utter nonsense. Most humans, regardless of their belief or non-belief, are in fact generally decent and honourable.

2. Hope gleams most brilliantly in the morass of despair.

Now here is an argument that suggests that humans are better off with the “hope of Christ”, rather than coming to terms with reality. Once again a few cherry picked nuggets suggest that all non-believers wallow in despair, and once again demonstrate that he has a remarkable gift for promoting complete and utter nonsense as fact.

Personally, like most humans, I find joy and also meaning in the one precious life that I have, and do not need to bolster myself up with myths as a religious narcotic to dull the senses and bury my head in the sand. It is true that there are individuals who do struggle with depression, but there is exactly zero evidence that this is specifically associated with non-belief, many believers also struggle in a similar manner, and so his implicit suggestion that “belief” is a cure for depression is simply not factual. Additionally his “hope” is in fact a call to embrace a delusion, and is simply promoting an imaginary friend for adults. Personally, I’m far more interested in knowing about the things that are actually true and have no interest in becoming lost by embracing a fantasy as reality.

I believe the clinical term for what he wants all to embrace is “Acute Psychosis“.

3. The appreciation for infinite transcendent lift is never felt more urgently than when we feel the imprisonment of the finite immanent.

The word “transcendent” means “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level“, and so his claim is that there is something beyond.  The rather glaring flaw here is that the evidence for any such reality is exactly zero.

When faced with assertions that there is something outside our normal rational reality, then I must confess that there is indeed such a place, it is called an “irrational fantasy”, so when given a choice between rational reality or an irrational fantasy … well, I remain rather committed to sticking with the former. If he does indeed wish to claim there is something more, then he needs to offer good solid objective evidence, because without that, his transcendent fantasy is about as real as Narnia is.

4. Faith is understood most profoundly in contrast to the futility of mere reason.

The argument he develops starts with a quote from a chap who says that we all want god, we can only find rest in god, and that non-belief is filling nothing with nothing. 

What is factually true is that humans have evolved and been naturally selected to attribute events to external agents. We are like this because it gave us a distinct survival advantage, but that reality is not evidence that such external agents (Zeus, Thor, etc…) actually exist. In fact, for the exact same psychological reasons we also have a natural tendency to “believe” in a lot of other external agents as well … aliens, ghosts, etc…

Regarding his “futility of reason” quip … would that be the same reason that has given us modern science, technology, medicine, and enabled us to work out that slavery is wrong and that being gay is normal?

As for “non-belief being “nothing into nothing”, since faith is essentially believing stuff on the basis of exactly zero evidence, when it comes to the claim that non-belief is all about filling our lives with nothing, I can but only point out that filling your life with a devotion to a fantasy really is quite literally filling your life with exactly nothing at all.

It is at this point that he then finishes off part 1 by telling us how much he loves us. Give all the religious rhetoric, intolerance, and assertions about non-belief being darkness, I consider that to be a gross abuse of the word “love”.

And so on to Part 2 which appeared about 6 days later. That starts with …

5. Positive affirmation is best appreciated as the counterpoint to perpetual negation.

He starts off with this quote, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” says Psalm 14:1.” and then claims that this refers to Ad hominem attacks upon believers. The flaw with that claim, as with all his other claims (as usual), is that it is complete nonsense, that very verse is itself an Ad hominem attack upon the very idea of dismissing daft beliefs due to a complete lack of evidence.

He then claims that he once seriously contemplated atheism, but I seriously doubt that, especially when his claimed conclusion was that non-belief was a belief – that is quite frankly nuts and reveals that he did not give it any thought at all. If indeed non-belief is a belief then I guess abstinence must be a sexual position.

He also asserts that there are “constant rebuttals from history, science, philosophy (to say nothing of the Bible) to non-belief” … and so now he is simply lying for Jesus, because no such rebuttals exist.

He then attempts to illustrate his claim with examples such as “Nelson Mandela’s passion for forgiveness learned also at the feet of Jesus” and so once again demonstrates that he is completely detached from reality. Mr Mandela was not a very religious man and went out of his way to remain neutral and endorse neither belief, nor non-belief. The driving forced in his life was empathy for all, and not religion. In fact, the others he quotes as examples, are all decent humans because of their very natural human empathy, and not because they embraced irrational beliefs.

Positively affirming things that are not actually true at all is quite frankly daft, and not in any way praiseworthy.

As for keeping the “No” alive … sigh! … there is no “no” to keep alive. Instead the burden of proof rests with the believers to provide some evidence for any of their claims. So far – after two thousand years – nothing, and that is not a great track record for maintaining their “yes” without being laughed at.

6. Love shines brightest in the gloom of hate.

He appears to simply not understand or grasp what the word “atheist” actually means. His assertion here is that atheists “hate” god … and so once again we have more nonsense.

No, I do not hate “god”, I really truly do not believe there is such an entity, because there is no credible evidence at all.

To illustrate this, if you are a Christian, then you do not believe in Zeus, Thor , Loki, or one of the many other thousands of gods that humans have believed in at one time. If I then claimed, “no no, you are simply angry with Zeus, Thor, and Loki“, you would sadly shake your head and consider me to be quite frankly nuts, because clearly they do not exist.

As for this “love” that he claims shines – since it manifests itself as ignorance, anti-science, intolerance, and with homophobic and misogynist behaviour, I simply dismiss that claim.

7. A symphony is never lovelier than when it first arises from the cacophony of the warm-up.

He finishes with a truly silly metaphor and appears to think that there is a grand plan behind the entire universe and that it all has been created with him in mind, he simply does not grasp how truly insignificant his place is within the known universe. We live in a Galaxy that contains hundreds of billions of stars, and in all probability contains millions of earth like planets. And in the context of the universe, that one galaxy of almost countless complexity sits with hundreds of billions of other galaxies (some astronomers now seriously speculate that there may in fact be trillions of galaxies out there).

So there you have it then – a rather tortuous journey through a collection of rather strange claims that do not appear to have any rational foundation at all.

Does he really believe all this?

Sadly, he truly does.

So is there a really good reason for Atheists not to leave the US?

Actually yes there is, you simply need to consider what would happen if all non-believers really did get on a plane and leave.

So how many do not believe? … well perhaps about 5 or even 10%

So would our absence be missed?

Not in prison, because 99% of those in prison are religious and are not non-believers, so there would be no real impact upon the rates of crime.

So where would there be a gap?

Well, since non-belief prevails in about 90% of the National Academy of Science, the best and brightest in the entire history of our species,  about 70% of those involved in research and development, especially medicine where one discovery can have a profound impact, and about 40%  of other scientists and engineers, and roughly (finger in the air) 30-60% of all professorates … you can more or less kiss the modern world and a decent education goodbye.

So as a believer, do you still really want all non-believers to leave?

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