I am a non-Christian who celebrates Xmas.*
There are many aspects of Christmas that I enjoy, which are not related to Christ, viz., spending time with family and friends, the lights and decorations, the festivities, the gifts, the music, etc. It’s a joyous and exciting time, and despite what many people believe, it’s mostly secular! Most of these traditions and festivities originate from pagan festivals that predate Christ’s birth by thousands of years. The actual Christian aspects of the holiday, which I don’t celebrate, were integrated with these festivals and rituals at a later time.
Contrary to the cliches you’ll see on church signs, the birth of Jesus Christ is not the reason for the season. Not only did most traditions pre-date the birth of Jesus, but biblical scholars overwhelmingly believe that Jesus was not born on December 25 or even during the winter for that matter. Most Christmas traditions contain elements of other ancient midwinter traditions. For example, the decorations and feast comes from Yule-log traditions and gift-giving comes from Saturnalia. In the past, Christians opposed these rituals. Early devout Christian sects refused to celebrate Christmas because it was not Biblical nor respectful of their faith. The bible itself even condemns them as heathen:
Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
-Jeremiah 10: 2-4
Some Christian denominations today still do not celebrate Christmas for similar reasons though by now most Christians have adopted these customs and absorbed them into their own celebration of Christ’s birth. It was Pope Julius the First who declared in the year 350 CE that December 25 was the official Christmas date. It had previously been used by the Romans to celebrate the birth of the sun. Shortly after the name Christmas was substituted.
If you’re a Christian, I do not intend to discourage you from celebrating your beliefs. There are many reasons to celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate the birth of Jesus, and that’s fine. People are free to celebrate whatever they want. But to claim that Christ is the reason for the season is just simply not accurate and it ignores the other aspects of the holiday that not only predated Christ, but were also at odds with most Christians at one time. I am simply stating why I celebrate the holidays. When I say I celebrate Christmas, I am not saying I participate in the Christian traditions. I don’t celebrate the birth or the nativity. I don’t pray (I also don’t celebrate Easter because unlike Christmas, it is mostly a Christian holiday.). I simply engage in the dinners and gift-giving and decorations. These are all customs that have nothing to do with Christ.
*Fun fact: Xmas is not a secular term or an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas. X is simply a Greek abbreviation for Christ. Likewise, holidays is derived from “holy days” and isn’t disrespectful toward Christians. And while I’m at it, there isn’t a war on Christmas (but that’s for a different post). That is, with exception of the time American Puritans tried to ban Christmas because they viewed it as pagan idolatry that had nothing to do with Christianity. Hmmm.
This is intended to be a brief overview of my views on religion. It is not intended to be combative. I was a believer for almost two decades and was very devout for much of that time. It is easy for me to empathize with religious people and see where they’re coming from. My intention with this post is to help others understand a non-believer’s point of view and also lay the basic principles for which many of my other posts on this blog will come from. I don’t aim to change minds, but rather to posit arguments that will incite thought and understanding. Regardless of whether one questions previous beliefs upon reading this, or continues to adhere to those beliefs, my hope is that the reader will have a better understanding of some arguments against god and comes away with strong rationale for why they believe or disbelieve in a god.
Did God create man, or did man create God?
“The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most people believe in god, although which god one believes in often varies based on where one was raised. There are multifarious gods and religions that people believe in, but one area of common ground amongst atheists and theists (including Muslims and Christians) is that they lack belief in most of these deities. Christians share an atheist’s skepticism in regards to Allah or Vishnu. They too lack faith in these deities. The one difference between atheists and Christians is that atheists believe in one god fewer than Christians. I posit that if theists were to observe their own beliefs with the same critique they pose toward other gods, they too would be atheists.
Regardless of which god a person believes in, it’s safe to presume very few, if any, believe in gods like Ra, Saturn, Thor or Zeus today. These are regarded as mythology by most. But, at one time, people did in fact believe in these gods. Man derived these deities in order to explain mysteries of the universe such as the sun or thunder. People believed in these gods much like Christians believe in Yahweh (the Christian God of the Bible) and Muslims believe in Allah.
These gods were used to explain gaps in humans’ knowledge of the universe. Of course today these gods are considered mythological as those gaps in knowledge were explained by scientific discovery. Now that physicists are aware of positive and negative charges and it has been discovered that lightning is merely an electrostatic discharge, gods like Thor and Zeus are no longer necessary.
The God of the Bible and other modern religions have also been used to explain gaps in humans’ knowledge of the universe. In this essay, I will mostly focus on the God of the Bible since that is what I grew up believing and am most familiar with. There have been thousands of questions throughout history and people have filled those gaps in understanding by saying “it’s God.” As science provides answers for those gaps, God is no longer necessary because the gap in our understanding has been filled with an explanation that has been tested and verified. Prior to our current knowledge of planetary orbits, it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth. The geocentric theory was a common belief not only because from our vantage point on earth, the sun (not us) appears to be moving, but also because this was stated in the Bible. Today most Christians regard these scriptures as metaphoric (such as the terms sunrise or sunset), but at that time these scriptures were taken literally. When Galileo promoted Copernicus’ heliocentric theory and claimed the earth revolves around the Sun, the Catholic Church condemned him for heresy. We are now aware that the earth does in fact orbit the Sun and even most Christians acknowledge this fact. The same can be said of many other things we know from science that were once gaps in our knowledge where people answered with god.
The most common gap in our knowledge that is plugged with “god” today is the origin of the universe. Christians assert that the universe must have a cause and because scientists have not determined a cause, then that cause must be god. But again, this doesn’t actually prove that there’s a god. It simply proves that there is a gap in our understanding (a gap that is becoming increasingly smaller and smaller). Many other gaps in humans’ understanding throughout history were eventually explained by theories that didn’t require a god hypothesis. I have no reason to believe that any current gaps are any different. Just because we don’t know an answer to a question does not mean that god is the answer. Saying “God did it” does not explain any of the universe’s mysteries, it simply offers an excuse for not knowing.
Another reason that the argument of causality fails is because it requires god to be excluded from its own premise. If all things in existence must have had an initial cause, as Christians argue is the case for the Universe, then wouldn’t God require a cause as well? Why should God be immune to having a cause? And let’s say that a god DID create the universe. Which god? As I stated earlier in this post, there are many gods that people believe created the universe. Which one is correct?
If all people awoke tomorrow with a completely clean palette of knowledge and were without all memory of science, religion, history, etc., I believe that in time people would rediscover much of our scientific knowledge. People would rediscover the boiling point of water and the orbits of the planets. It would certainly take time, but many scientific laws would be rediscovered. I don’t believe people would create the same religions we currently have. They might imagine deities to explain answers to questions they don’t know, but I do not think they would come close to resembling the Bible. And if upon awakening these people were provided all existing books and tools, one could test what they read in science books and determine that the Earth does in fact revolve around the sun or that water does in fact freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These would prove to be accurate because they are. But if a person picked up a copy of the Bible, would it provide the same “truth” that many Christians claim it presents? I suspect that people would have a difficult time distinguishing it from even some of the most far-fetched fictional works. Sam Harris used a similar thought experiment in his book The End of Faith where he concludes, “the Bible and Koran, it seems certain, would find themselves respectfully shelved next to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”
“Can omniscient God, who knows the future, find the omnipotence to change his future mind?”-Karen Owens
I don’t claim to have all the answers to the universe. For me personally atheism and agnosticism answer two different questions. Atheism addresses belief whereas agnosticism addresses knowledge. If I’m asked if I believe there’s a god, then my answer is no. If the question is “Is there a god?” my answer is that I don’t know. Technically, by this definition, we’re all agnostic. None of us truly know. Christians certainly believe, but they don’t know. We all have limited knowledge of the universe, but where we differ is belief. And without complete knowledge, it’s impossible to prove a universal negative. Theists cannot prove God exists, and atheists cannot prove that God does not exist. Likewise, no one can prove that unicorns or Bigfoot do not exist because humans have not discovered the entire universe and somewhere in the universe it is possible for a unicorn to exist, although I do not believe this is the case. In regards to unicorns, all of us are skeptics, though we can’t know for sure.
However, if a being’s qualities are contradictory, it’s logical to assume that it cannot exist and therefore does not exist. Though I do not know all of the properties of every part of the universe, I can make a decent assumption that a cubed sphere does not exist anywhere in the Universe because it is seemingly impossible. A cube has 8 corners; a sphere has no corners. I do not believe a cubed sphere can exist, and therefore I do not believe it does.
Likewise, God’s attributes contradict each other. I posit that god seemingly can’t exist and therefore doesn’t exist. The qualities of God include being omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omni-benevolent (all good), all just, all merciful, and free-willed.
Given the existence of evil, omni-benevolence is not compatible with omnipotence and omniscience. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, he is aware that evil exists and he has the power to rid the world of it. If God is all-good, why hasn’t he done so? Epicurus states this cleverly:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
One cannot argue with the fact that evil exists because God wants it to. The Bible even says that God created evil (Isa. 45:5-7). In what way does this make him all good? In his book Who Made God, Christian Apologist Ronald Rhodes makes the point that evil is not existent on its own, it is the corruption of what already exists, much like mold or rot. On the surface, this is a decent attempt at answering the question, but his answer runs into the same problems that the initial question posed. If God created everything to be good and they were corrupted, God knew this would happen (at least if he is all-knowing). And if he is all-powerful, he could stop existing things from corrupting. In a world where there are horrible things such as cancer, disease, rape, and murder, it is difficult to imagine an all-loving being just sitting back and watching these things happen to good people when he is fully capable of preventing them. The concept of free will may explain allowing acts like rape and murder, but not tragedies such as disease, cancer, tornados, hurricanes, and all of the other devastating events that are not caused by a choice.
Another explanation for the problem of evil is that evil can lead to a greater good. But wouldn’t an all-powerful god be capable of creating good options without the use of evil? There is no evil in heaven, yet heaven is supposed to contain superlative good. If heaven does not need the presence of evil to achieve a greater good, then why is the presence of evil necessary on Earth?
Some Christians believe that without an evil adverse, one couldn’t do something that was truly good. There are a couple problems with this explanation. First, if God is omniscient, he knows if someone is going to choose good or evil before said person ever makes that choice. If God knows a person is going to make an evil choice, that person cannot make the adverse choice because God would have been incorrect. The idea of an omniscient and omnipotent god is not compatible with free will. In this context, free will is utterly useless if God will punish one for making the wrong choice. A gift of which the recipient will be punished for using is worthless. Imagine that a president were to pass a law that was an egregious suppression of liberty. Suppose it was made illegal to read books, or that one could be incarcerated for wearing a hat. Most Americans, regardless of their political ideology would consider this horrifying. When the new law is met with criticism, imagine the president responds by assuring people that they still have freedom. They are still free to wear a hat; they will just be thrown in jail if they do so. Is that freedom? Would that answer satisfy people’s concerns? Likely not. What good is the freedom to wear a hat if one will spend life in jail for doing so? Most, if not all, would agree that this is not freedom. This is essentially the same reasoning that Christians use for free will. The Bible states that God has given us free will. Yet if a person uses that free will to choose not to accept Christ, a supposedly just god will declare infinite punishment for finite sins. Like the example above, an authority figure, this time God, states that people have freedom to choose their actions, but those that make the wrong choice will be punished. Again, What good is free will if one is punished for using it? Is this really freedom?
“She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” -Ezekiel 23:20
The Bible is supposed to be the infallible word of God, yet it contains many errors, contradictions, absurdities, unscientific claims, acts of violence, acts of racism, bigotry, and injustice. There are far too many to list them all, but one doesn’t have to read far to find problems. The Bible begins with contradicting creation stories (Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:21) that are very much at odds with very basic scientific discoveries. On the first day, God says “let there be light,” yet didn’t create the sun or stars that produce light until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19). And when the Bible does get to the creation of light, it refers to the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night (Genesis 1:16). But the moon is not a light! The moon merely reflects light from the sun.
Obviously the Bible is not a science book and God is not obligated to reveal all scientific discoveries to us, but why would he include something in his book that would later be proven wrong? The primitive men who wrote the Bible understandably had little knowledge of science because most discoveries had not yet occurred. This explains the multiple unscientific verses in the Bible. This explains why the Bible implies that the Earth is flat (Revelation 7:1, Isaiah 11:12, Job 38:12-13), that the sun revolves around the Earth (Ecclesiastes 1:5, Psalm 19:6), or that the Earth remains still (1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 104:5). Obviously the Earth was believed to be flat during the time the Bible was written so it makes sense that a man would make these claims, but why would an all-knowing god make these implications? In order to take the Bible literally, one must disregard discoveries from geology, physics, astronomy, biology, paleontology and most other scientific domains.
The Bible proposes several prophecies, some of which were vague enough to be somewhat accurate, but others that just simply didn’t happen. There is no record that Egypt was ever a barren wasteland as the Bible claimed (Ezekiel 29:8-12), or that the Nile dried up (Ezekiel 30:12), but I suppose those events could still happen in the future. But there are also occurrences that the Bible said would not happen that in fact did. In Ezekiel 26: 7-14, God sends Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the wicked city of Tyre and then claims that Tyre will never be rebuilt. If it is to be never rebuilt, it must not exist today. But that’s not the case. Tyre still exists today, despite being conquered by Alexander the Great (not Nebuchadnezzar).
And the Bible is full of contradicting stories. 2 Chronicles 16:1 mentions Asa Baasha, king of Israel, rising up against Judah ten years after 1 Kings 16:6-8 claims Baasha died. 2 Samuel 6:23 claims “Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” However, 2 Samuel 21:8 reads, “But the king took the two sons of Rizpah . . . and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.” Unless we are to believe that Michal gave birth to five children after her death, these seem like conflicting stories. And there are plenty of other contradicting stories in this book.
Some of the Bible is just absurd. As if being emasculated isn’t bad enough, according to the Bible one is also going to hell for it (Deuteronomy 23:1). Handicapped are also not welcome in the presence of God (Lev.21:17-23). The Bible says that a man must marry a girl whom he rapes and cannot divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and if a man discovers that his bride is not a virgin on their wedding night, the men of her city must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). The Bible says it is acceptable to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), stone people for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15), and stone disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). In the absurd verse Genesis 38:7-10, God kills a man for ejaculating on the ground. Teach that one to your children in Sunday School! Make sure you also teach your kids not to make fun of a man who is bald. God will punish them by having bears attack (2 Kings 2:23-24). God kills many infants and children in the Bible and is even praised for bashing babies against rocks (Psalm 137:8-9)! I suppose God is not as pro-life as many of the religious right think!
These are just a few, of thousands of contradictions and absurdities that can be found in the Bible! These kinds of problems aren’t difficult to find. Just pick a story. For example, here is a thorough debunking of Noah’s Ark. Pick just about any story and think about it critically and you will find sufficient reason to cast doubt.
I’ve expressed some of the reasons for no longer buying into Christianity. During the time that I began questioning my beliefs I spent years reading the Bible and Christian apologists, talking to pastors, and even praying for answers. But the easiest way to convince me that God exists would be for God himself to prove his existence to me. This shouldn’t be too much to ask since he did prove existence to people in the Bible. Paul was a skeptic and even killed and imprisoned Christians. He lived after Christ’s death, and like myself, the Bible and Christian apologists were not convincing to him. God himself had to appear before him and show him that he was wrong. Thomas had to physically touch Jesus to affirm that it was indeed God. Why did God reveal himself to skeptics then, but not now? My answer would be because the Bible is fiction and God is chimerical. Many people have prayed for years for God to speak to me, and I appreciate the prayer because it shows people are concerned for me but it also shows that God either (a) does not hear their prayers and cannot answer me, (b) God hears their prayers but is unable to answer me, (c) that God hears their prayers and is apathetic, or the most likely answer, (d) there is no god. None of these are qualities worthy of worship.