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Transcription of "Faith is not a virtue" by Aron Ra

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  1. Thank you. Thank you very much. I want to make a comment about the guy who was commenting about homosexuals: it surprises me because if I were gay, would that be an insult? And, as I am not gay, can that offend me? Much more impressed I was when I saw the Muslim demonstration at the Global Atheist Convention where they had all these guys gathered up, telling us all to burn in hell, and calling for the heads of people that were independents. And yet two gay guys walked up in front of this massive procession and kissed. There's this huge cheer. I was so proud of those boys. Anyway. That takes balls, and you know they've both got a pair.
  2.  
  3. When I was invited to come here, I wasn't sure what I was going to talk about until I saw an article in one of your local papers, the Daily Eastern News, that said I would be speaking on "the role of faith in society." So I figured I'd best talk about that. --And I'm going to have to read a lot of this, I'm sorry. It's surprising what little you can do on a plane. And it's 15 hours one way going across the Pacific. Even at 600 miles an hour, that sucks.
  4.  
  5. Throughout my youth, I was taught that faith is a virtue. Other than that, no one could tell me what faith is. I was told that faith is loyalty. Now Fido was a popular dog name because it was based on the derivative of "fidelity," meaning the opposite of "infidel." And obviously if you are faithful and your spouse is unfaithful, he or she is guilty of infidelity. That's why they're called "faithful." An infidel is one who does not keep the faith. I'm told that the virtue here is that a man should stand by his beliefs as if his beliefs are tied to his very identity, and that he should hold true to that and defend the faith without compromise. That didn't make any sense to me as a child because, I reasoned, what if you had two men with mutually exclusive ideas? What, exactly, is virtuous if at least one of them are wrong, if not both? What exactly is virtuous about being unable to consider your opponent's position or reconsider your own? I know people who will continue to believe what they want to believe, regardless of whether it's really true or not.
  6.  
  7. [clip of Simpsons episode featuring Homer and Ned Flanders]
  8.  
  9. I've actually met people like this, several of them. One grisly example of it from my youth: somebody brought missionaries over to talk to me about the Mormons, and they brought over their pamphlets and they're sharing with me what they believe, and I couldn't help laughing through it. I was 14 years old, and they're telling me the things that they believe, and it's just--I don't know, whenever you listen to some religious belief you're not familiar with, it's, "Oh, you guys believe crazy shit--unlike me, I only believe in talking snakes and donkeys." But when I would talk to the person who brought these people over to talk to me, I said, "You guys believe all this weird crap." He said, "No, we don't." "Well, yeah, you do, it's right here on this pamphlet. They say--" And she grabbed it, crumpled it up, threw it in the trash can, and prevented me from getting to the trash can to deny that "that paper said that, and you can't get it out." She knows that the paper said that, but inside, she won't admit the paper says that.
  10.  
  11. I know that other people have done this, too, and one guy I know of managed to convince himself that his wife was still faithful, even when all of his friends and family had figured out when and where and with whom she was cheating. He didn't want to believe that, so he refused to acknowledge it, ignored all the signs, saw only what he wanted to see, and preserved his dignity (he thought) for a while until he realized that he didn't have any dignity for quite a time. And I know this is what religious people do, too. But it begs the question: when is it ever wise to believe someone without reservation? I was told that faith is trust--well, obviously that didn't work for me, either, partly because I had this image [image of sinister-looking goblin and thought bubble saying, "TRUST ME"] on a t-shrt in high school. In this context I was told I would not step onto an airplane unless I had faith that it would land safely. That doesn't make sense because I know the plane exists, I can prove that it does, I know something about the safety ratings of getting on an aircraft, I know I can check out my sources to know that they should be fairly reliable--but how could I be expected to trust things which can't be verified, and which are told to me by people who frankly can't be trusted? I can't trust the teacher, or the preacher, or even the President-who, when I was a boy, was Richard Nixon, and maybe that's why I can't recognize any authority as being unquestionable, and that includes the people who wrote all the world's religious tomes while claiming divine inspiration from a host of gods who cannot all exist at the same time.
  12.  
  13. Each of my science books said, "This is why we think this, this is how we figured it out, and this is what we still don't know." That I can trust. And it inspires me to contribute. Conversely, religious books claim to already know everything you'll ever need to know, even though they never explained anything, and you're forbidden to question them; instead, you should believe them without suspicion simply because they said so, even when they've already been proven wrong. This is why the words "confidence man" described a criminal swindler; such people should not be trusted. When is it ever wise to believe someone without question?
  14.  
  15. At least when you look up the word "faith," some dictionaries will describe it as "a secure confidence," but those that do also distinguish the colloquial sense from faith as it applies to religion, and that is the context we're talking about. Every dictionary I have yet seen matches everything I've seen from the hymns and sermons and theologians past and present, and even the scriptures of Abrahamic and Hindu religions: faith is a secure confidence that is not based on evidence. Without evidence, there can be no reason to believe. So then faith was described as being synonymous with hope. You hope this is true. You hope your authorities know what they're talking about. You hope they're not lying to you, and you hope your preconceived notions will still turn out to be true even when they obviously can't be. This sort of unsupported wishful thinking is what it really means to take something on faith. But when is it ever wise to believe someone without reason?
  16.  
  17. But you gotta have faith. If you have faith, anything is possible. Faith can move mountains. Supposedly, your faith can make mountains move all by themselves so you don't have to do all that tedious shoveling. That's the great thing about faith: it can give one a satisfactory feeling of accomplishment without having to find a solution or, really, do anything at all. In one of many old books of magic, myth, and monsters, there is a legendary character called Jesus, who might have been an actual person, but the story has been heavily embellished. In one of these tales, Jesus said that with even very little faith, you could destroy coastal communities by causing mountains to jump into the sea. He didn't mention the implied tsunami, but that is what would happen. However, while Jesus says we aonly need faith as small as a mustard seed--and I want to know what his metric is, what metric he's using--he also implies that our faith must be absolute, because we cannot have doubt. The only way to eliminate doubt, the things that can't be tested, is you simply don't question, don't even think about them. Even though you know it's absurd, just keep telling yourself that miracles can happen if you believe that they will. But you must be absolutely convinced; the impossible will happen only if you believe "hard enough." Or if you make a wish with all your heart. Because there, mutually exclusive contradictions can be ingested without consideration. Don't think your way out of Fantasia. You don't measure faith with a logical brain from a natural world. "Search your feelings, you know this to be true." If you circumvent the intellect, you can believe six impossible things before breakfast. All you have to do is deny the laws of nature and the rules of logic, and just convince yourself without a doubt. Don't just say that you believe impossible absurdities, assert your conviction. Trust in the priesthood and in the doctrine of the infallible fables, and believe them absolutely. Never understimate the power of pretend; you must make-believe. You have to pretend, with all the auto-deceptive delusion you can muster, because there's a lot riding on it.
  18.  
  19. Religion is a belief system; that means you are required to believe this, and forbidden to believe that. This is how religion differs from free thought: we don't care what you believe, all that matters is why you believe it. Faith doesn't count as a reason. It is indefensible in that regard. This may be why religions resort to psychological projection, denying their own faults while accusing them in others. It's an old cliche: the pot calling the silverware black. It means accusing someone else of faults you, too, are guilty of. But religious extremists project their own faults onto those who will not share them.
  20.  
  21. [montage of clips of religious people talking about the faith of atheists]
  22.  
  23. It's the old playground game of "I'm rubber, you're glue; what bounces off of me sticks to you." It's an infantile tactic which I describe as the pot calling the silverware black. It's a sort of psychological spin; how else can you defend an indefensible position? You have to twist everything around. That's why the Bible defines a fool as someone who does not believe completely the outrageous claims of incredulous sources even without asking for evidence, but every other source in the world defines a fool as someone who does these things. When I went to the Reason Rally, I found myself in an energetic discussion with a couple of deeply indoctrinated Christian kids. They were victims of the sort of cerebral bleach peddled by the likes of Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind, and I was not immediately aware of the cameras gathered around us; these boys accused me of having faith in "evolutionism," but that's not all they did. They expressed an all-too-common fallacy in Abrahamic religions, one which relates to the role of faith in Western society. They accused me of secretly believing in God but denying his existence so that I would not be accountable for my beloved sins. My point of contention was ill-expressed in that crowd of everyone talking over everyone else, so I'd like to clarify it here.
  24.  
  25. There is this idea, common throughout Christendom, that belief in God is somehow required in order to be good. Statistically, that is obviously not the case, at least according to what I happened across online [screenshot of article headlined 'Societies wors off "when they have God on their side"']. I don't see a lot of Christian compassion or charity represented here [screenshot of article headlined 'Religious doctors not more likely to care for poor: study']. The factions of religion typically have the highest crime rate with special emphasis on hate crimes. Religious people are more likely to condone the murder or torture of prisones [screenshot of headlines 'An Enduring Majority: Americans zContinue to Support the Death Penalty,' 'Evangelicals Support Torture'], where non-religious people are more likely to consider that morally wrong. Yes, we have morals, and we're beginning to feel alone in that. But it gets worse. The most religious countries also have the highest murder rate, and the same is true of the most religious areas within this country. The higher the religiosity of a populace, the higher the murder rate. Similar nations show the opposite tendencies, where the less religious they are, the more peaceful they are [screenshot of article headlined 'Atheist nations are more peaceful']. Here in America, evangelical Christians have the highest divorce rate [screenshot of article headlined 'Evangelicals: Why Do We Have the Highest Divorce Rate?']. They also have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, which isn't surprising since we believe in teaching abstinence only. I live in Texas, where the abstinence-only program has been so successful that we have achieved the country's highest level of repeat teen pregnancy. But it gets even worse. Fundamentalist Christians also have the highest rates of abortion; that's what a colossal failure the programs of the religious right have been. But it still gets even worse than that: child protective services and other agencies report a significant majority of child abusers and molesters report as being very religious, and the more religious they seem to be, the worse offenders they seem to be. And yet despite all of this, how are atheists perceived?
  26.  
  27. [montage of invective against atheists]
  28.  
  29. In 21st century America, as in other predominantly religious countries now and throughout history, we are judged as evil, void, and emotionally depraved simply because we do not believe things which are not evidently true, because we are wise enough to reserve judgment in lieu of compelling evidence. Because we are wise enough not to jump to the first conclusion [unintelligble]. We lack the virtue of admitting we are wrong about something or could be. If given good reason, I will change my mind. I've had many discussions with people who say, "Look, you're never going to change my mind, and I'm never going to change yours." And I say, "No, you're wrong. You could change my mind, if you have a reason. I can't change yours because you've decided in advance that it doesn't matter what reason I give."
  30.  
  31. And it doesn't matter if there is an inverse correlation between one's level of education and their tendency to believe in gods, aliens, pseudoscience, and spiritualism. The real problem for empirical science and other forms of rational skepticism is that we care more about truth than the religious do. Christians have often told me that their fear of God is the only reason they don't run amok in the streets, raping, killing, and doing all the horrible things God commanded his followers to do in the Bible. Things atheists generally would never do even if it were legal. Most of us tend to do good, and when we are, we're good for goodness's sake. We do what must be done because it should be, not because of any threat, and not for any reward, either. So why do Christians think that belief in God has anything at all to do with being good? The popular notion is that when anyone dies, they're judged according to the tally of good or evil things they've done in their lives. This idea is much older than the Bible. It dates back to the Zoroastrian religion, which scholars say contributed significantly to the formation of Judaism, and of course Christianity and others. Way back then, they believed that the souls of men would ascend to the kingdom of justice and truth ruled by Ahora Mazda. And the souls of evil men descend into the kingdom of the lie ruled by Ahriman. And shadows of this can be found in modern Judaism, but this does predate. This is what it says in the Avestas of Zarathustra, but it does not say that in the Bible, and that is not what Christianity teaches.
  32.  
  33. In the Christian religion, nearly all sins can be forgiven if you believe in Jesus, and simply because you believe in Jesus. No matter how absurd the stories are, all you have to do is swallow whatever the priests are selling [image of stained glass window depicting a boy kneeling in front of two priests, implying fellatio], and that's it! You're saved! So if you love sin, claim Jesus as your savior. Yes, there are passages in the Bible that say that works are important, too, but only in addition to faith, and those passages could be paraphrased as, "Believe what we tell you, so that you'll do as we say." Submissive obedience and subservience to the priest is repeated throughout. But there are also passages like Ephesians 2:8 which say that you are saved only through your faith, not of yourselves, meaning that there's nothing you can actually do about it. Because, as it says in Isaiah 64:6, your good works are like filthy rags in the eyes of God. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are, you're not going to be held accountable for your sins; that's not what you're being judged on. There is only one criteria[sic]: all that matters is that you believe, and that you believe on faith, meaning that you have complete conviction without evidence. Remember, Jesus said, "Blessed is he who has not seen and yet believed." So morality isn't the issue. What matters is whether or not you can believe the most outrageous claims imaginable, even from the least credible people possible, and believe it completely even when there is no reason at all why you should. The most saintly skeptic is cursed simply for being rational, while the most naive sinners can still be saved. You can break the Ten Commandements if you want to. You won't go to hell for that. In fact, the Bible lists hundreds of God's commandments, but he literally won't give a damn if you break them. Leviticus 26 says if you break God's commandments, he will punish you in this life, not the next, by making your toil harder and your efforts fruitless. That's why all these atheists [image of celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, and Jack Nicholson] had to toil so hard with little or no reward.
  34.  
  35. Now you might be thinking, "But that's the Old Testament, and those rules don't apply to modern Christians." But in Matthew 5:19, in the New Testament, Jesus says that any who ignores those old commandments shall be called least in heaven. So you'll still go to heaven; you just have to fly coach. You're still supposed to obey all those creepy old Jewish laws, including the one about having to murder anyone who works on weekends, and the one about having to sell your daughter to whoever rapes her first. But you'll still be forgiven if you don't. Even if you eat at Red Lobster while wearing a nylon-polyester blend. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are; love your sin all you want. Noah was a naked old drunk cursing his own children. Lot offered his daughters to a rape mob before he got drunk and molested them himself, and even blamed them for seducing him--what a schmuck! Yet these were the men whom God considered the best men in the whole world. Graded on a curve, wouldn't you all be better than that? Graded on a curve, how could any of you be considered least in heaven?
  36.  
  37. What sin could you commit that would be worthy of damnation? You can break 612 commandments out of the whole list of 613. There is only one sin that even God doesn't have the power to forgive, which is weird because God wrote the rules--but I guess he wrote a rule prohibiting him from breaking his own rules. And he lives by those rules, even when circumstances demand exceptions, because it is considered virtuous to never admit when you are wrong. Anyway. One unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy has been legally interpreted to mean criminal offense of, or disbelief in, someone else's dogma, and it still carries a death sentence in some countries. Nowhere does the Bible ban believers based on their works; belief can always get them out of that. Nor does the Bible allow that good, kind, charitable, and saintly souls could go to heaven even if they don't believe. So believers can be as vile as they wish--it doesn't matter. Atheists can be the most moral people ever--doesn't matter. Morality doesn't matter; gullibility is the only criteria[sic] required for redemption, so if you love sin, and you don't want to get killed for it, just say you believe in Jesus and the Holy Ghost, because the only way to really piss God off is not to believe in him.
  38.  
  39. So when someone like me knows this and still says, "I can't believe that," it means I really don't believe that, seriously, sincerely. You may as well try to sell me on Paul Bunyan or Peter Pan. Even if there is a God, these cannot be the rules of any just, wise, or righteous judge. These can only be the mandates of frauds or con men, who are the only things in the universe that require or desire your faith. Deceivers need believers. And the only reason why anyone would portray gullibility as a virtue--and this is why the Bible does not praise rational intelligence, and actually forbids skeptical inquiry. Instead, it promises unimaginable rewards to only those who believe what they're told, and which they'll never see as long as they live. However, it is an empty promise.
  40.  
  41. Spending eternity trapped in the company of the Bible God would be a lot like being trapped in the home of little Anthony Freemont, the creepy kid from the Twilight Zone [image of Freemont]. If you've never seen that episode, there was a little boy about six years old who had the powers of God. If he didn't like something you said, or thought, he would either turn you into a macabre monstrosity, kill you in some unthinkable fashion, sentence you to a living nightmare that never ends, or banish you to "the cornfield"--an implicitly oblivious place that was never adequately described in the story. If he showed you some ghastly curse he had just put on a cat, or on your spouse, you would have to show him approval, no matter how sick or twisted it was. You had to smile wide and praise him for doing that awful thing. "That's a good thing you did, Anthony. A real good thing." Because if you didn't, if you didn't make yourself say and think nice thoughts about him, he would tighten his lips and his eyes would get wide and all you could do was hope that he killed you quickly. So whenever Christians talk about heaven, that's exactly what I imagine. Think about enduring that forever.
  42.  
  43. So what's the alternative? If you doubt the Christian dogma, then they'll threaten you with a fate worse than death. But it is an empty threat. If you think about it, hell, and Satan, too, are a logical paradox that wouldn't exist even if God was real, because God is not tied to the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, disproving the Bible does not disprove God, and regardless of whether any sort of God exists, the Bible has already been proven wrong about damn near everything back to front. Heaven shouldn't exist either; from my perspective, they're both the same picture, and the artist is apparently Hieronymous Bosch [image of paintings by Bosch]. If the Bible were correct, then even the Christians can't escape from damnation, because of this [screenshot of Luke 14:26: 'If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.']. The Jewish God, Yahweh--supposedly Jesus' father--commanded us to love thy neighbor and honor thy father and mother, but Jesus says not. The only way to be saved is to follow him. The only way to do that is to hate your own family. [screenshot of 1 John 3:15: 'Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.'] If you hate your brother, you're a murderer [screenshot of Revelation 21:8: 'But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'], and all murderers burn in hell. Notice it does not say, "all murderers except those who are forgiven." So, yes, I'm going to forgive you, but I'm going to torture you anyway. Hahaha. It also doesn't exclude someone who murdered someone for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, so you figure out what you're supposed to do there.
  44.  
  45. But remember that Jesus is usually considered to be a god and the son of the real God--God the Father, also known as El, Allah, Abba, Yahweh, being the same god for the Jews and the Muslims. Apparently, God and Jesus had a few disagreements, the first being the most important in terms of your salvation, because the God of the Old Testament isn't as nice as Jesus. So if Christianity is true, and you're a Christian, you're going to burn in hell. But if Judaism or Islam are true, you're doomed then, too, because you broke the very first commandment by putting Jesus before God. God says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me, there are no gods beside me, there is me and me alone." It's in Isaiah 45. And then Jesus of course comes in and says, "I am the way, I am the truth, there's no way to get to God but through me." So Jesus positions himself before God. Jesus says that if you believe in him, you will not even taste of death, but he lied. Because Christians and atheists both find themselves writhing on the floor clutching their chests trying to take another breath. That's what death tastes like, and that's what I'd like to be saved from.
  46.  
  47. [interruption of video]
  48.  
  49. --and my belief will change, whether I want it to or not, as my understanding of the facts improves. Religion, or religions belief, is often a matter of pretend, not even connected to whatever you think is really true. The first speech I gave, I mentioned Lindsey Lohan's lesbian love life, everyone's favorite topic at that time. She was a Catholic dating a Jewish girl, never mind what both those religions have to say about homosexuality. Anyway, Lohan announced that in the following month she would convert to Judaism. She would still be a Catholic until next month. With that announcement, she effectively said that next month she would stop believing that Jesus was the only way to salvation, next month she plans to believe that what she believes today is damnable idolatry. Only religion can be this insane. Only religion would offer payment for religious conversion, which is what happened when the English Christians gave away acreage to any Vikings who professed to believe in Jesus. Only religion would threaten to kill someone unless they pretend to believe the same unreasonable horseshit you do. Just imagine being promised real estate on the condition that you believe that Columbus discovered Ohio in 1942, and that you're being discriminated against if you can't convince everyone you really believe that. Imagine being damned to an eternal torture for not believing that, when everything that you know says that such indefensible nonsense simply cannot be true. How then could a God be portrayed as just if that is his system of judgment?
  50.  
  51. There are Christians in my life whom I love and admire, and I know many Christians who love their atheist husband, daughter, friend, and so on. Those people see past the relatively trivial matter of whatever the other person believes, and sees qualities that are much more important. It is such a pity that these people are so much more wise, just, and moral than their ridiculous, infantile, and thankfully imaginary God.
  52.  
  53. So, no, the reason I don't pretend there isn't an imaginary God has nothing to do with my wanting to be held accountable for something. Quite the opposite. The fact that I have accountability is the reason I can't pretend to believe. Not that that or anything else I ever say or do will matter to believers. When I die, guaranteed, some disrespectful fuck will be at my wake, assuring his or herself that they were right all along, and that Aron knows God is real now. So I'll use this moment to preemptively correct that eventual asshole by saying that when you or I die, we will not think, know, wish, remember, dream, be anything. Whether your god exists or not, history will be our judge. Either way, when I die, everything that was once me--my mother's son, my son's father, my wife's husband, my friends' bro, my neighbors' inconsiderate jerk--everything that once made me special will, upon my demise, be reduced to a few dozen pounds of ape meat going bad. And I'm okay with that. I don't need to live forever. The only meaning my life ever had was what I meant for someone else. That is all, and that's enough.
  54.  
  55. Thank you.