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Hollywood's religious revival
March 28th, 2014
01:22 PM ET

Does God have a prayer in Hollywood?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Los Angeles (CNN) – Forgive Darren Aronofsky if he’s begun to identify with the title character of his new film, “Noah.”

Like the infamous ark-maker, the 45-year-old director has weathered a Bible-sized storm – and it’s not over yet.

Aronofsky’s epic, which stars Russell Crowe and boasts a $130 million budget (with marketing costs to match), rode a swelling wave of controversy into American theaters on Friday.

Despite fierce criticism from some conservative Christians, "Noah" was the top box-office draw last weekend, raking in $44 million in the United States.

Part Middle-Earth fantasy flick, part family melodrama, the film is an ambitious leap for Aronofsky, director of the art-house hits “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.”

Both of those films were showered with praise and awards. “Noah,” on the other hand, has sailed into a stiff headwind.

Glenn Beck and megachurch pastor Rick Warren blasted the film. The National Religious Broadcasters insisted “Noah” include a disclaimer acknowledging the filmmakers took “artistic license” with the Bible story. Several Muslim countries have banned the movie, citing Islam’s injunctions against depicting prophets.

Even Paramount, the studio releasing “Noah,” has agitated Aronofsky, testing at least five different versions of his film with focus groups.

“I can understand some of the suspicion because it’s been 50 years since an Old Testament biblical epic has come to the big screen,” Aronofsky said recently. “And in that time a lot of films have come out of Hollywood that have rubbed people the wrong way."

Box office report: 'Noah' wreaks Old Testament havoc on its competitors

2014 is supposed to be the year Tinsel Town reversed that trend and finally got religion.

A decade after “The Passion of the Christ” surprised Hollywood, rankled liberals and raked in $600 million worldwide, big studios are backing a flotilla of faith-based films.

In addition to “Noah,” there’s “Son of God” from 20th Century Fox, which came out in March and is culled from the History Channel’s megahit miniseries, "The Bible."

In April, Sony Pictures will release “Heaven is For Real,” based on the bestselling book and produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Texas megachurch pastor and multimedia entrepreneur.

The movie “Exodus,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses, is scheduled for December. So, too, is “Mary, Mother of Christ,” which is billed as a prequel to Mel Gibson’s “Passion.”

More biblical epics may be on the horizon. Steven Spielberg is reportedly in talks to direct another movie about Moses, and Warner Brothers recently bought a script about Pontius Pilate.

The box office hasn’t seen this many faith-based films since Charlton Heston delivered the “The Ten Commandments” in Technicolor. And that’s not even counting “God is Not Dead,” the indie sleeper that took in $8.5 million last weekend.

So what’s behind Hollywood’s religious revival?

“The biggest factor is the dynamic growth of the box office in international markets,” said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, one of the forces behind “Noah.”

MORE ON CNN: A flood of reviews for 'Noah'

Moore pointed to the $14 million his film has made in Mexico and South Korea, two of the more than 20 countries where “Noah” will run this year.

As Hollywood’s supply of comic-book heroes seems to run dry, studios know the Good Book comes with a built-in audience of billions. The Bible’s heroes and villains are jeered and cheered on nearly every continent. Its morally complex stories are rife with blockbuster-ready special effects like locust plagues, apocalyptic floods and talking donkeys.

But the controversy over “Noah” illustrates the promise and the peril of bringing the Bible to the big screen.

Yes, there’s a ready-made audience that loves the book, but will they tolerate a script that strays from Scripture? On the other hand, will increasingly secular young Americans flock to see films that look and sound like sermons?

"The earlier emphasis of faith-based films was to sacrifice quality for the message," Jakes said in a recent interview. "But it's dangerous to divide entertainment from evangelism. You're not going to connect with the average movie-goer if you're not putting out good stuff."

But even Jakes, a longtime pastor and film producer, said it's not easy to turn a religious text into a movie.

Megachurch pastor and multimedia entrepreneur Bishop T.D. Jakes' latest film, "Heaven is For Real," releases in April.

The author of "Heaven is For Real" has been adamant that the movie mirror the bestselling book. And Jakes cautions that the film's depiction of heaven does not comport with Christian orthodoxy.

"It's a little boy's vision of heaven," he said. "It's not a theological film by a council of scholars."

Like Jakes, Mark Burnett said he sees the silver screen as an evangelistic tool.

"We believe that over the next few decades, billions of people are going to see 'Son of God'," the reality-show producer said. "This is not just some film to us."

Burnett pitched his movie hard to religious leaders before its release. Evangelical pastors like Rick Warren rented out entire theaters, and Catholic bishops endorsed the film – which hews to the New Testament telling of Jesus’ life.

The Christian push lifted “Son of God” to No. 2 on its opening weekend in February when it made more than $26 million in the United States.

Since then, sales have fallen sharply. But Burnett cautions filmmakers against bowdlerizing the Bible to succeed at the box office.

“There’s a big price to pay for departing from the sacred text,” he said.

Just ask Universal Pictures, the studio behind Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which sparked outrage in 1988.

Not only did Christians boycott the movie, in which Jesus fantasizes about married life, some sent death threats to studio executives.

“These stories hit really sensitive areas,” said Elijah Davidson, director of the Reel Spirituality program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Noah’s tale is a prime example. Just four short Bible chapters, it’s more sketch than story: The protagonist doesn’t speak until the boat finally lands ashore.

“And yet it’s a foundational story for many Christians,” Davidson said.

For centuries, theologians have taught that God’s covenant with Noah and post-flood promise to be merciful prophesied Christ’s later arrival.

Building Noah’s arc

Aronofsky, who describes himself as culturally Jewish but not especially religious, said he respects how important the Noah story is for believers.

“We tried very hard not to contradict anything in the Bible,” the director said. “But we also wanted to bring the story alive for a 21st century audience.”

Wiry and intense, with a shaved head and a Brooklyn accent, Aronofsky looks like a man who’s just finished one fight and is girding for another.

“What’s been missing from the whole controversy is my personal passion for the film,” the director said. “I’ve been thinking about this for 30 years.”

"Noah" director Darren Arnofsky's previous films have included the art-house hits "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler."

When he was 13, Aronofsky’s middle-school class in Coney Island was asked to write about peace.

He penned a poem about Noah called “The Dove” that was recognized by the United Nations. (As a thank you for setting him on the creative path, Aronofsky gave his teacher, Ms. Fried, a bit part in “Noah.”)

Even as a child, the director said, the Noah story unsettled him.

Aronofsky didn’t see the happy tale of rainbows and doves told in children’s books. He saw the humans and animals consumed by the waters – the world drowning in the deluge outside the ark.

As he began his film career, the director grew obsessed with telling the Noah story from that perspective – and employing the power of modern special effects to portray Earth’s first apocalypse.

“It’s one of the oldest and most famous stories in the world,” Aronofsky said. “And yet it’s never been told on the big screen.”

There are good reasons for that. After all, it’s a dark story.

God, distressed at human wickedness, decides to hit the cosmic reset button. His waters wipe all life from the planet, except for the fortunate few on the ark. After the storm, Noah gets goodly drunk – perhaps the first known case of survivor’s guilt – and curses the descendants of his son Ham to slavery.

To understand Noah, and to give his character a story arc, Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, spent 10 years poring over the Book of Genesis and the midrash – stories written by rabbis to fill out the Bible’s narratives.

They also read texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch, a work ascribed to Noah’s great-grandfather. Handel, who studied neuroscience, is known as an obsessive researcher. The script’s bibliography runs five pages long, single-spaced.

“We had to figure out how Noah and his family would get through this, and what it would feel like,” Aronofsky said.

The studio also hired a Christian consultant for the film. John Snowden is a former youth pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, where Moore, the Paramount executive, is a member.

Snowden, who was pastor to Moore's son, said the filmmakers’ questions ranged from the sublime (Why did God create human life?) to the ridiculous (Would Christians be upset if Noah wears pants?).

“I gave them a sort-of manifesto of Christian theology,” said Snowden, 38, who now lives in Nepal. “The most important part of the story is why God created humanity, which is basically to reflect God’s glory. Those are the kind of conversations we would have.”

Script or Scripture? 

Several evangelical leaders have posted positive reviews of the film, and, with the help of a Christian marketing firm hired by Paramount, are spreading the word that nothing in "Noah" belies the Bible.

But others aren’t so sure.

On March 16, megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted this message to his 1.3 million Twitter followers:

Director of new “Noah” movie calls it “The LEAST biblical film ever made" then uses F word referring to those wanting Bible-based [films]

For the record, Aronofsky said he’s made the “least biblical biblical film ever made.” That is, don’t expect the camel-and-sandals settings of last century’s Bible movies.

“We wanted to smash those expectations, Aronofsky said. “We are reinventing the biblical epic for the 21st century.”

Count conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck among the unimpressed.

Before he even saw the movie, Beck, who is Mormon, called “Noah” a “slap in the face” to religious people.

“It’s dangerous disinformation,” he told his 10 million radio listeners.

After Paramount screened “Noah” for Beck last weekend, he acknowledged that blasting the film sight unseen was “kind of a dirtball” move.

Then he blasted the movie again, calling it a “$100 million disaster.”

Beck’s biggest problem with “Noah” was Noah himself, whom Mormons believe is the angel Gabriel in human form.

“I always thought of Noah as more of a nice, gentle guy, prophet of God,” Beck said, “and not the raving lunatic Paramount found in the Bible.”

MORE ON CNN: Is 'Noah' film sacred enough?

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said he has the same problem with Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah.

The Bible calls Noah a “righteous man,” Johnson said. In the movie, his character is much more complex.

Noah begins the film as a rugged environmentalist who teaches his family to respect the Creator and all of creation. As he becomes increasingly zealous, Noah seems bent on destroying life rather than saving it.

“I understand that the writers want to create tension and resolve it, but they push it to a spot where if you haven’t read Genesis, you wouldn’t know whether Noah is really a man of faith or not.”

Moore, the Paramount executive, said focus groups had similar questions: How much of the film is from the Bible and how much was invented by Aronofsky?

At Johnson’s urging, Paramount agreed to include a disclaimer before the opening credits and in marketing materials stating that the film is “inspired” by the Bible and true to its values but takes certain liberties with the story. (The language mirrors Dreamworks' disclaimer for “The Prince of Egypt,” which was based on the Book of Exodus.)

“People needed to know upfront that this is not a literal re-telling of Scripture,” Moore said. “It helped set their expectations for a movie about a guy who goes on an intense journey. This is probably not the Noah they remember from Sunday school.”

Aronofsky and Handel insist, however, that their film never directly contradicts Genesis, and even takes pains to remain faithful to it. The ark, for example, is built to the Bible’s specifications, down to the last cubit.

Ultimately, though, the director has little patience with literalists on either side of the believer-atheist divide.

It's ungenerous to insist, as some Christians do, that there is only one way to interpret Genesis, according to Aronofsky. But it's also pointless to argue, as some atheists have, that no ark could possibly hold all the animals.

The story of the flood has lasted for millennia not because it’s "right" – or wrong – but because it’s deep and alive and unsettling, the director said.

The artist's job, like Noah's, is to make sure those kinds of stories survive – to prepare us for the next storm.

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Art • Bible • Business • Christianity • Media • Money & Faith • Moses • Movies

soundoff (2,089 Responses)
  1. syed56

    There is no doubt in it that you have not created yourself someone or whatever your believes are you have been created you can call it whatever name you choose and there are physical laws in that universe so you can call that force behind those fundamental laws is The Creator so Creator is not an issue it is religious practice we may disagree with each other

    April 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm |
  2. syed56

    Irony of majority of scientist is that they believe and teach on cause and effect but when it comes to creation of universe everything happening by itself

    April 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm |
  3. Dalahäst

    Hollywood did a story on Jackie Robinson called 42. They skipped over some important facts, like how Jackie would get down on his knees and pray before every game. And often before having to face the racist society that hated him, he also got down on his knees and used prayer to overcome an obstacle few of us will ever have to deal with.

    “It’s like people think that prayer is a sign of weakness. Well, getting down on his knees didn’t make Jackie Robinson weak.

    That’s what helped make him strong.” – Eric Metaxas

    April 9, 2014 at 10:11 am |
  4. iamyourgod2014

    Dear Da Loyal: This is a messsage from the crater (please di$regard my spelling mi$takes, again as I told loyal servant Kermitthefrog, I have not been in Kontact for 5999 years) I am real. I here your preyers. What wood you like to know. Questions please!

    April 8, 2014 at 2:42 pm |
  5. idiotusmaximus

    There is no god.....THE BURDEN OF PROOF LIES ON RELIGION….If you propose the existance of something, you must follow through with the scientific method in your defense of its existance otherwise I have no reason to listen to you.

    April 6, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    The Jewish scribes wove many a fine tale !!! Just like their Greek counterparts.

    April 4, 2014 at 6:47 am |
  7. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    commo check

    April 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
  8. kermit4jc

    well actually...Jesus IS unique...as shown in such example as Promethius..there was no resurrection...it only seems like one if one expands the definition..same as with the word for "salvation" Jeussis uniquein that he fully resurrected (those like Horus are not resurrected at all..but are still HALF dead in a place similar to hell! which is in no way an actual ressureciton) MANY people have followers....any number of them...also, many of those myths that have 12 followers had that added after Jesus. so again really..it is a grasping at straws when people try to discredit Jesus of the Bible by using the myths...by the way Promethius and Horus were notborn of virgins

    April 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "While not an exact carbon copy, Christ exemplifies any number of pre-established mythological archetypes."

      Do you know what an archetype is?
      Even the concept of the triune God did not originate with Christianity.

      April 3, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
      • kermit4jc

        however..none of these discredits Jesus...event he Triune God thing..give me examples that you are thinking of please

        April 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          That so many of Christ's characteristics were extant in prior mythologies casts doubt as to the veracity of the supernatural aspects of His story.
          Christianity has a long history of co-opting other culture's practices – Easter for example.
          For example, Attis (who was born of virgin) dies and was resurrected during a three day period at the end of March.
          The very word "Easter" comes from the Saxon goddess Eastre and the Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility, Eastra.
          Krishna's birth was heralded by the appearance of a bright star in the Eastern sky. etc.
          You may want to consider taking a course in comparative mythology.

          April 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          UHHH..If you ACTUALLY read my posts..I HAVE been studying them at large sir!!! NOt only in class..but outside of classroom...try again..I KNOW of those..I was asking which of thoe YOU want to use as example....further..your argument is of AFTER the bIble (examples easter) not of the bIble itself....so thus Easter and such is moot at the moment..Ill get back to you on Attis and all in a few (presently at work)

          April 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          LIsten..as I said I done more research outside the classroom classroom dating back to the 90s....the FACT is..many of the similarities between Jesus and the myths are mostly written (added) AFTER Jesus....such as Attis being "crucified" there is much evidence to show that ATtis died originally from a spear on a hunting trp...and the crucifixion was added to the story after Christ....as we seen in writings of Greek historians etc. see this page to get more info http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/attis.php this is one of many studies out there to show the supposed similarities between Jesus and myths that debunk current opinions of those who say Christianity is a copycat of other myths

          April 3, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          @Kermit
          If the you're using Christian apologetic sources (like tektonics) to research other religions and mythologies, don't you think the materials might be just a tad biased?
          It's like going to Answers in Genesis for information about evolutionary biology or a Scientology website to study psychiatry.

          April 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          NO one is without bias...and I have used a number of sources..Im only giving you one source for the time being..in hopes that it would stoke your interest to look further into the supposed claims of the similarities between Jesus and myths

          April 4, 2014 at 1:51 am |
    • iamyourgod2014

      Hello dear kermit4jc, loyal servant of mine. I thank thee for the following. Please disregard any speling or gremmer mi$takes I may make as I have not been in kontact with anyone since...well you wood now when loyal servant. I see you sitting there with your blue shirt on, as I am all knowing. I hear your preyers. I am thankful you pray. It helps the earth a lot. The earth IS 6000 years old! capitalizing words makes it true. Loyal servant, I want you to know that all religions are correct as I created them all. please spread the word. Don't worry that I am choosing you,as I choose Heysus (jesus) when I impregnated the virgin. YES I SAID IT< I DID IT! She has a baby daddy. Dear loyal servant, use google and let the jews, the chrisitans and muslims, hindus, sikhs, agnostics, atheists, scientists....please let them know they are correct, all of them my children.....hold on a minute.....yes Heysus? no, its not that website, it's dabl-u-dabl-u-dabl-u dot....what? NO dont type DOUBLE, OH MY GOD (whoops hehe), hand on Heysus I will be right there....Kids! Jeepers, sorry about that loyal servant. I must continue on with my work. Please pray and let me know how this goes. until then. unto you unto me. GOD

      April 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
      • kermit4jc

        first of all.....Google has info..ALSO,,,in case you forgotten..there are BOOKS to read as well..thats where I get my info....the people on Google...they can read books too if they want.

        April 8, 2014 at 4:57 pm |
        • iamyourgod2014

          Oh my god (me) I can't believe you are talking to me like that. The first time god tries to talk to you and this is how you react? would you like a curse on your village? Noah is like 900 years old you know, i did that to him

          April 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          hahaha nice joke...its silly ok..grow up..not really funny at all...its kinda stupid

          April 8, 2014 at 5:05 pm |
        • iamyourgod2014

          Wow can't wait to tell Jesus. What are you going to do when I fly down? Is this how you will react? Just remember the angels are recording everything you say

          April 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm |
  9. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    A yellow bird... with a yellow bill
    sat up upon...my windowsill
    i lured him in... with a piece of bread
    and then I smashed his... f*ing head!

    April 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm |
  10. toleranceofall

    "Asking for any Christian to explain everything their God does is a weak argument, because it presumes that the Christian has perfect knowledge of everything."

    Wrong, and disingenuous. The problem isn't that they can't explain everything, it's that they can't explain anything ***satisfactorily*** to anyone who hasn't already bought into their narrative. Their answers only make sense to people already inside the cult.

    I put "*" around the most important word in your sentence. "Satisfactorily" This would imply that someone is actually interested in the answer. Far too often, atheists are merely asking questions, not out of a general interest or pursuit, but more to try and prove superiority by showing that a Christian can't possibly know all of the answers. They have an answer. Whether you accept that answer or not, is on you. I have found that trying to convince an atheist of the existence of God is not generally worth my time.

    In fact, I deny most people who are honest can call themselves atheists. Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Assume that the circle is all of the knowledge of everything possible in the entire universe and beyond. Indicate on that paper by a dot, circle, some type of notation what the knowledge of mankind is. If you are at all honest, the mark you make on the paper would be nearly microscopic. Therefore, given the amount of room there is, does that leave open the possibility of a god (maybe not the Christian God or any other god we know about) that is out there? Of course. Therefore, most atheists are really agnostics, which is a much more honest answer. And if they still state categorically that there is no god, then that is a belief system, rather than a knowledge.

    "I suppose the answer is, you can ask question after question after question until someone doesn't have an answer. ..."You get to a point where you can't answer a question. And that's ok."

    I disagree. Here's the problem: To have a valid argument it has to be built logically on known and accepted facts. But this is not the cause for any explanation or argument Christians offers. No matter what they try to explain, if you examine their argument enough it ultimately comes down to "That's just what I believe."

    Yes! Congratulations! You have come to the crux of the issue. Christianity is a matter of FAITH. Any Christian who has said they have never had doubts is at worst, not exploring their faith. At best, they are not being honest. The Bible even goes into this. Faith is the belief in things unseen.

    "Christianity, just like every other religion is nothing more than a fictional narrative its adherents choose to believe because they find it more appealing than the other alternatives."

    This is your belief as no one can definitively prove these things didn't happen. Religion is simply a group of people who share a common belief.

    "People convert to another religion when they find a new narrative they find more appealing than the one to which the current subscribe. But there's no objective evidence to support any of them, and pretty much everything about the concept of a god raises significant questions no one can answer."

    There is evidence. However, most of it is internal and not capable of examination under outside scrutiny. Christianity is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but doesn't necessarily have outward expressions (though, admittedly, it should – such as good works, kindness, meekness, gentleness, but unfortunately, many do not display these as well as they should). I look at it this way. If I say, "I love my wife" and someone states "Prove it!" How would I do that? By nice things I do for her? By sharing a life with her? None of these prove that I love my wife. It just shows I share my life and do nice things for another person. Admittedly, it is a bit different, because one can't really question whether my wife exists, but I hope you'll forgive a somewhat flawed analogy, and see the point I am trying to make.

    "The standard Christian explanation for why there is no evidence of God's existence is that if there were evidence of his existence we wouldn't need faith. But if there is no evidence he exists, and hence no reason to believe he exists, what's my incentive to invest time and energy to develop faith in something I have no reason to believe exists?"

    This is an excellent point. I think the first step is to be open that God exists. State you are going to give it a go and be honest. Be willing to wait. Be patient. But if one goes into Christianity saying, "Ok, I'll accept God exists, now God, show up and prove Yourself to me" it's going to be a rather disappointingly long wait. He does eventually do just that. However, I find in today's world of instant gratification, it's too long for many.

    April 2, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
    • hotairace

      Ah, the old "ya gotta believe to believe" carpola. Fact, there is no actual (physical, factual, verifiable, independent, objective, etc.) evidence for any god. None. Zero.

      April 2, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
      • toleranceofall

        Close. Physical? Yes. Factual? Yes. Verifiable? Depends on your system of determining veracity. If you're looking in a microscope or a telescope, you're right. Independent? Well, 2.1 billion people today (not including those who have died), most of which haven't met each other, seems fairly independent. Objective? Who would be the objective source? The person who staunchly believes that God doesn't exist or the person who does?

        April 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
        • hotairace

          So let's see your physical and factual evidence.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
        • igaftr

          "Physical? Yes. Factual? Yes."
          Now you are just lying.
          Tell me, how did you eliminate all other possibilities than your particular god, even those possibilities you did not even conceive of?
          SInce I know you didn't, I also know you have NOTHING that indicates YOUR god, above all other possibilities.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          What good would me showing you do? You're not *actually* interested. You'd merely ignore it or criticize it or ridicule it. In fact, you and/or one of the other people who dislike Christianity is probably going to ridicule this post now. I will refer you to my previous post starting with "There is evidence." Re-read that paragraph again.

          Let me make one point abundantly clear. It is not my job to prove the existence of God to you. If you're interested, seek Him yourself. If not, fine. It doesn't affect me either way.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
        • hotairace

          No, I would evaluate it.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
        • igaftr

          You certainly just proved your name is ironic.

          I really would like to know what you consider evidence, so that I can PROVE to you that it is not evidence of any gods.
          I realize you are afraid of seeing the flaws in your beliefs, but blind faith gains nothing.

          Let me give an example.
          A friend prayed for an ill friend to get better. When the friend beat the odds, he touted that as an answered prayer. I pointed out to him that he does not have a cause effect relationship, no chain to follow, he just wanted it to be true, so declared it to himself ( and others) that it was true. There was no evidence at all of any god intervening at all.
          It was similar to the coin I keep to ward off tigers. Since there are no tigers in my area, I can say that it is because of the magic coin I possess, but I would be wrong, wouldn't I.

          So instead of being afraid, please, let us hear your "evidence". I am certain I can show where there is nothing to indicate any "gods".

          April 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
        • skytag

          @toleranceofall: "Independent? Well, 2.1 billion people today (not including those who have died), most of which haven't met each other, seems fairly independent."

          First of all, this isn't relevant to his use of the word "independent." But to address your comment, all Christians embrace a religious narrative based on the Bible. Since they all share a common influence they are not independent.

          In point of fact, when religions do spring up independently, subject to no influences from other religions, they tend to have little in common. They don't even agree on whether there is one god or there are multiple gods.

          April 2, 2014 at 3:38 pm |
        • neverbeenhappieratheist

          "Therefore, given the amount of room there is, does that leave open the possibility of a god (maybe not the Christian God or any other god we know about) that is out there? Of course. Therefore, most atheists are really agnostics, which is a much more honest answer."

          I am an atheist. I accept that I do not know everything there is to know so cannot rule out the possibility of a God. I am still an atheist by definition because I do not believe in any Gods even though I leave open the possibility that one or more exists.

          And agnostic is: a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

          I claim disbelief in God/gods because I see no evidence for them, but I am certainly not ignorant enough to claim there is no possibility of their existence. I disbelieve that leprechauns exist but I cannot rule out the possibility that somewhere in the universe a being that we would define as a leprechaun may exist. I am not however "agnostic" towards the existence of leprechauns telling myself constantly "Well they might exist!" and looking for anything I might be able to blame them for like my missing socks.

          So in short, I am an atheist and I do not rule out the possibility of God but it will take some tiny shred of empirical evidence for me to change my disbelief.

          April 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          So what are you looking for as far as independent? Someone who doesn't believe in the Bible suddenly does? That's happened. Likewise, people who have believed in the Bible have suddenly stopped. Is one Is it someone who has never heard of Christianity coming to believe in Christ? That's happened.

          If you're looking for a Christian who doesn't believe in the Bible, are they really a Christian? How can you claim to be a Christian without accepting the authority of the Bible?

          I'm a little confused by these comments.

          April 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
        • hotairace

          Evidence of some god independent of the written or verbal claims for that god. For the god of The Babble, evidence for that alleged but never proven god independent of the claims of The Babble.

          April 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          Do we have to go with disparaging remarks?

          April 2, 2014 at 5:15 pm |
        • skytag

          "Physical? Yes."

          No.

          "Factual? Yes."

          No.

          "Verifiable? Depends on your system of determining veracity."

          The meaning is obvious.

          "If you're looking in a microscope or a telescope, you're right."

          I'm looking for something more than taking your word for it.

          "Objective? Who would be the objective source? The person who staunchly believes that God doesn't exist or the person who does?"

          Neither. The source should not be a person. Objective evidence is evidence that doesn't rely on subjective interpretation to be evidence.

          Suppose for example I go on vacation, and when I return I see several trees in my neighborhood blown down as well as branches strewn around everywhere. My neighbor tells me there was a hurricane while I was gone. The trees lying on the ground are objective evidence supporting his claim.

          However, if he claims the hurricane is evidence God is displeased with Floridians, the downed trees are not objective evidence supporting that conclusion. They may be "personal evidence" to him, in that he's just sure that's why we had a hurricane, but no one can verify that's actually the case.

          April 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
        • skytag

          @toleranceofall: "What good would me showing you do?"

          Well, at the very minimum it would prove you actually have something to show.

          "You're not *actually* interested."

          You don't actually have any evidence.

          "You'd merely ignore it or criticize it or ridicule it."

          So what? If that's how people respond to it that's their choice. Why should anyone consider your "evidence" above criticism? Can it not withstand objective scrutiny? Are you afraid people will point out alternative explanations you can't refute, thus poking a hole in your confirmation bias?

          "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." — Matthew 5:11, 12

          You don't sound like someone who feels blessed and exceeding glad when people ridicule your beliefs. You sound like a typical whiney Christian fraud. It's easy to talk the Christian talk. Walking the Christian walk is much harder.

          "In fact, you and/or one of the other people who dislike Christianity is probably going to ridicule this post now."

          It deserves ridicule. All you're doing is whining and making excuses because you know your "evidence" can't withstand objective scrutiny.

          April 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm |
      • toleranceofall

        Further, this also falls under the logical fallacy "Appeal to Ignorance." So it's really a poor argument that just because you can't scientifically prove God exists, that He doesn't.

        April 2, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
        • hotairace

          Where did I say your alleged but never proven god does not exist?

          April 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm |
        • igaftr

          That is incorrect. He pointed out you have no evidence at all that exclusively indicates YOUR god above all other possibilities.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          You implied it. If you deny this, you are merely being disingenuous.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          @igaftr

          Then that is merely an ignorant statement as he has no idea what evidence I do or do not possess. So which is it? Was it just a misstep in a logical deduction or was it a display of ignorance? Being the charitable person I am, I am going to assume the former.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
        • hotairace

          I believe I have been consistent in saying that I do not believe any gods exist but cannot rule out the possibility that one or more exists somewhere. I believe the probability is very low, virtually zero, but non-zero. Can you admit that there is a non-zero probability that your alleged but never proven god does not exist?

          April 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
        • hotairace

          I don't believe that anyone, you or anyone else, has any actual evidence for any alleged god, but I do not know so am open to evaluating others' evidence. But as you have just done, many claim to have actual evidence but none are able to actually produce any. I wonder why that is.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
        • igaftr

          toler
          Since I know you cannot exclude all other possibilities, I know you have nothing that you can exclusively say is YOUR particular, specific god.
          It does not matter what "evidence " you think you have, How did you exclude ALL other possibilities?

          April 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm |
        • toleranceofall

          I can always say, "I could be wrong." I'm willing to admit that. Perhaps everything I believe in is utter nonsense. Perhaps all I do is say I believe in something in life and at the end of my days, all that can be shown is I was a charitable person and I wasted some time on Sunday. Of course that's a possibility! Anyone who says otherwise is a fool. However, my belief, again, is that it will not be.

          However, as to my evidence, you would have to base my evidence completely on my imperfect testimony. With all due respect, you don't know me, so you have no reason to trust me or believe me. And given that my simple experiences would probably not convince anyone (other than myself) of the existence of God, it's really a moot point.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm |
        • igaftr

          With the simple declaration of "I could be wrong" you have redeemed yourself. That was my point from the start. As long as you are willing to admit that you could be wrong, but have faith anyway, I can easily accept that.
          That declaration is often hard to come by, many declaring truth when they mean belief and so forth. Many claim logic and reason for their faith, but show a complete lack of logic or reason...as long as one can admit they may be wrong, that is all that one should need. That opens the door to the mind, and an open mind is all one can ask for.

          After all, you do not know. If you knew there would be no need of faith, would there.
          Thanks for your honesty, and have a great day.

          April 2, 2014 at 1:54 pm |
        • skytag

          @toleranceofall: "Perhaps all I do is say I believe in something in life and at the end of my days, all that can be shown is I was a charitable person and I wasted some time on Sunday."

          I wouldn't call it wasted. It's been an experience that improved your attitude, your outlook on life, your ability to deal with adversity, probably fostered good friendships with like-minded people and encouraged you to be a better member of society.

          To the extent people benefit from religion in these ways I have no problems with it. In fact, I think in this respect religion plays a positive role in societies.

          Unfortunately, all too often believers are not content with this. Believing they know what God wants they seek to force others to abide by their view of "God's will." During the Spanish Inquisition it meant torturing people deemed not to be good enough Catholics.

          It's led to people being killed for being witches, even though the only evidence they were witches was the "personal evidence" of those judging them.

          Did you know there are seven state constitutions with provisions prohibiting atheists from holding public office? Of course they've all been deemed unenforceable, but they exist because of Christians who only wanted people who think as they do to hold public office. We've had blue laws imposing Christian beliefs on businesses, Prohibition, laws criminalizing sodomy, laws banning birth control, abortions, gay marriages, interracial marriages and more simply because arrogant Christians thought they needed to impose their "personal knowledge" of what God wants on our entire society.

          Muslims who slit their daughters' throats for being seen with a man are just as much a product of believing in a god as your charitable acts are.

          History is full of examples of people causing harm to other people justified by their religious beliefs and their "personal knowledge" of what God wanted them to do. As long as people believe in a god there will be people whose "personal knowledge" of what that god wants will drive them to harm others, and that's why atheists tend to be down on the whole god thing instead of just letting you folks do your thing without comment.

          April 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      In general, non-believers don't think faith (in the religious sense) is a virtue whereas religion is predicated on faith. The willing suspension of critical thinking required to accept a proposition despite a lack of evidence (or evidence to the contrary) is anathema to the skeptical mind. Faith in your fellow man (including preachers) is indeed important becuase without faith there is no reciprocity in your relationships – and relationships are important. Having faith that your preacher is legitimately trying to do good is not the same as suppressing rational analysis so as to have faith that what he says is fact.

      As for the claim that if one simply waits long enough with an open heart, God will reveal Himself – that same argument is made by just about every religion.
      If you spend enough time addressing your Body Thetans, even though you can't see or hear them, one day you'll become Clear and the path to exploring your true potential as a human being will be evident. But until the day you receive the revelation of how to walk the path of an Operating Thetan, you must be patient and continue to audit courses in Dianetics at your local Scientology Centre....

      April 2, 2014 at 1:29 pm |
      • skytag

        There are two kinds of faith. Both are a belief in things that cannot be known, but they have very different bases.

        One kind of faith is an extension of know facts and experiences. I have faith the sun will come up in the morning. I can't prove it, but this would be consistent with my 59 years of experience with the sun rising every morning. Faith in a person to be honest because you've always known him to be honest is an extension of your experiences with him. These kinds of faith are rational and reasonable, and as you say, essential to productive relationships in society.

        The other kind of faith is a belief in something you have no rational reason to believe. Faith in God is this kind of faith. This kind of faith is an extension of experience or reason, it is believing in something simply because you want to believe it. Unlike the first kind, this kind of faith is not rational.

        April 2, 2014 at 11:39 pm |
    • believerfred

      Very well stated, thank you for that summary.
      In my life it boils down to that moment when Christ put the Holy Spirit into my very existence. Suddenly in an instant the words of God became Divine. That which could not be seen was.
      As you mentioned the timing is not necessarily ours only the cry for help that comes out of a sincere heart. My experience, for me anyway, proves some key points in the Bible true. A sovereign God sets existence in motion for redemption as a broken and contrite heart God will not deny. God heard my cry and blessed me with a reality that is centered on God a living God............and as the Hebrew discovered when God is with us our journey leads to the promised land.

      April 2, 2014 at 2:07 pm |
    • skytag

      "I put "*" around the most important word in your sentence. "Satisfactorily" This would imply that someone is actually interested in the answer. Far too often, atheists are merely asking questions, not out of a general interest or pursuit, but more to try and prove superiority"

      It has nothing to do with proving superiority.

      "by showing that a Christian can't possibly know all of the answers."

      Nonsense. As I said, they don't have any answers acceptable to anyone outside their particular cult. Let me illustrate this with a non-religious example.

      There are people who believe George Bush orchestrated the attacks on 9/11 to have an excuse to start a war. They are often referred to as "truthers" because they say they're just looking for the truth about what happened. Basically they're conspiracy theorists. They have theories they say support their belief Bush was behind the attacks. If you question something about their theories they answer with more theories, also unsupported by any solid evidence. Truthers accept these answers as valid because they want to believe Bush was behind the attacks, because to a man truthers hate Bush.

      But to more objectively minded people their answers are unconvincing. In every case you pretty much have to want to believe you're looking at "evidence" to believe what they present is evidence, as none of it is conclusive and some of it seems downright silly.

      "They have an answer. Whether you accept that answer or not, is on you."

      Their "answers" can never be verified. Those aren't answers, those are speculation. Believers don't need answers, they only need to believe there is a plausible explanation. But since the authors of Christian created a god without limits, who isn't bound by the laws of time, space or matter, anything is plausible to them. They don't actually need answers to questions about the ark story, they just need to believe "God could have" done something to address any concerns expressed about the story. They don't need to know that's that happened, it just needs to be plausible to them.

      April 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
      • kermit4jc

        LOGICAL..not merely plausible..certainly if such a God exists..who created all things..then certainly He cando it..we stikll use reason..we use logic..IF..then..its all part of using the knowledge and onnecting the dots...its exactly how I work it....so why say something different?

        April 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
        • skytag

          When I talked about the ark needing to hold more than 40K animals that was based on logic, as there are over 20K known species of land animals and birds and no scientific evidence suggesting there were significantly fewer species at the time Noah allegedly built the art. You ridiculed the idea that 40K was a reasonable number with no logical argument to support your view at all. Your only argument was that the Bible doesn't mention a number. If you think that's using logic you clearly have no idea what logic is.

          April 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm |
    • skytag

      "Therefore, given the amount of room there is, does that leave open the possibility of a god (maybe not the Christian God or any other god we know about) that is out there? Of course."

      Is it possible the universe was created by aliens from another dimension who created this universe and implanted a device that caused the big bang?

      "Therefore, most atheists are really agnostics, which is a much more honest answer. And if they still state categorically that there is no god, then that is a belief system, rather than a knowledge."

      This is just sad. What difference does it make if there is something you might consider a god on the other side of the universe? The existence of such a god would not validate your beliefs about your god.

      Based on your logic I would claim you are an agnostic about Santa Claus. Can you prove he doesn't exist? You can't, but I dare say you don't go around telling people you don't know if Santa Claus is real.

      I believe there is no god for the same reason I believe there is no Santa Claus, no leprechauns, and no vampires: I've never seen any reason to believe any of them exist. If that makes me an agnostic about God then I guess I'm agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, leprechauns, and vampires too.

      April 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
      • toleranceofall

        No, I make a quite different statement.

        I simply say...

        "I don't believe in X (Santa Claus, Leprechauns, vampires, etc)."

        That's a factual statement. Because I don't. It's not saying they don't, I'm saying I don't personally believe in them.

        The difference is, atheists turn, "I don't believe in God." to "God doesn't exist." Those are two totally separate statements. It's taking an opinion and stating it as a fact, which is wrong. Not the opinion. The stating it as a fact. Perhaps if atheists change the verbiage, it wouldn't be offensive to Christians and many of these arguments wouldn't start. Essentially, by stating "God doesn't exist" you are insulting all of those of faith (and not just Christianity) by stating an opinion as a fact that you can't possibly have enough knowledge or information to say.

        This also goes to disparaging remarks such as "Sky fairy", "the Babble", "Zombie God", etc.

        Admittedly, some Christians are heartless towards atheists and disparage them. This is equally as wrong and is certainly not acting with the mindset of Christ. So, please, don't believe, for a moment, that I am trying to imply that atheists are terrible, awful people who just bully people of faith. Christians have not exactly been kind to atheists in history to present day either.

        April 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm |
        • Sungrazer

          "The difference is, atheists turn, "I don't believe in God." to "God doesn't exist.""

          What I say is: "I lack a belief in the existence of any gods." More often that not, I see the atheists here making similar statements. If you see anyone say "God doesn't exist" they may just be taking a shortcut. To know for sure, you would have to ask them.

          April 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm |
        • Sungrazer

          That said, there are what I believe to be sound arguments, such as incompatible properties arguments, for the non-existence of specific gods. For example, a god who is described as omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient does not seem to square with reality. But relax one of those, and the argument is defeated. The trouble is, most people don't want to believe in a god where one of those is relaxed.

          April 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
        • skytag

          "The difference is, atheists turn, "I don't believe in God." to "God doesn't exist." Those are two totally separate statements. It's taking an opinion and stating it as a fact, which is wrong."

          How is this any different than what Christians do? Instead of saying "I believe there is a god" they say "God exists," "God is real."

          Why is it okay for Christians to state beliefs wholly unsupported by any evidence as facts but atheists should operate under different rules?

          April 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm |
        • skytag

          "Perhaps if atheists change the verbiage, it wouldn't be offensive to Christians"

          Why would any verbiage cause a real Christian to take offense? I would submit to you that deep down you are not as certain of your god's existence as you want people to believe. You want atheists to express their beliefs in a way that's less threatening to your beliefs. If I say "I don't believe there's a god" that doesn't challenge your belief because that's only a statement about me. If I say "there is no god" that challenges your belief in God because it's a statement about God himself.

          I've found that when people are genuinely secure in their beliefs they don't take offense at what other people think of their beliefs. People only take offense when they feel threatened.

          April 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm |
      • believerfred

        No, you believe there is no Santa Clause because you know the concept was a man made story. You do not know anything about God. The difference is knowledge. Knowledge is far more than facts subject to scientific method.

        April 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
        • skytag

          @believerfred: "No, you believe there is no Santa Clause because you know the concept was a man made story."

          Kind of like Odin, Zeus, and every other god except, of course, yours, right? See, I think the concept of the Christian God is every bit as man made as Santa Claus. The real difference is that the Santa Claus story was never sold to people as real and it's recent enough that people know its true origins. The story of the Christian God is ancient and shrouded in mystery. It's been around long enough that it established itself among superstitious people with no real scientific knowledge, becoming so widely accepted by the time real science began to come into existence that cultural inertia can keep it alive.

          If you tried to establish Christianity today it wouldn't sell.

          April 3, 2014 at 12:15 am |
        • skytag

          @believerfred: "You do not know anything about God. The difference is knowledge. Knowledge is far more than facts subject to scientific method."

          This is a classic example of Christian jargon, where Christians take a word with a broadly accepted definition and give it their own definition different from the normal definition. Here's a real definition of knowledge:

          knowl·edge ˈnälij/ noun
          1. facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
          2. awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

          In Christian-speak "knowledge" has a very different meaning: it's code for anything they believe about God or the Bible.

          April 3, 2014 at 12:16 am |
        • kermit4jc

          @believerfred: “You do not know anything about God. The difference is knowledge. Knowledge is far more than facts subject to scientific method.” your argument still purports that you are spaking for Fred...I find that arrogant..if fred says he has knowledge..then let it be so...don't tell him what he knows or not know..youare not him..you do not use his mind or brain

          April 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
        • skytag

          @kermit4jc: "your argument still purports that you are spaking for Fred"

          I was quoting him.

          "...I find that arrogant"

          Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. You're possibly the most arrogant person in this discussion, as well as generally one of the most obnoxious Christians I've encountered online, so quite frankly I couldn't give a rat's behind what you think about my comment to believerfred.

          "don't tell him what he knows or not know..youare not him..you do not use his mind or brain"

          Blah, blah, blah. Believing something isn't knowledge. You want truth? That's truth. Belief is not knowledge. If you can't handle the truth — real truth as opposed to unsupported beliefs you peddle as Truth™ — that's not my problem.

          April 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
        • believerfred

          skytag
          "Kind of like Odin, Zeus, and every other god except, of course, yours, right?"
          =>no, Our God is the God of the living not the dead. Since the birth of the first Hebrew in the day of beginning God has been with His people. As time went on other nations feared Israel because God was them not because they knew God. Thousands of years later we see the Glory of God in Jesus who said I will send the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth until my return. This He did and since Pentecost the Holy Spirit is demonstrated in the lives of true believers. That is our living God who has been present. If you doubt the presence you need look no further than the affect of that presence in our world. What atheists believe does not change the presence as evidenced by the affect (yes, even effect of presence).

          "I think the concept of the Christian God is every bit as man made as Santa Claus."
          =>that statement is inconsistent with your post concluding the concept Santa is known as a fun story. You even discredit this comparison yourself when you say Santa was never sold as real.

          "it's recent enough that people know its true origins."
          =>again you discredit your conclusion. In 1773 Santa Claus was first noted and was the combination of Father Christmas and Sinterklaas. That was 250 years ago. Writings of Jesus began 20 years after His death which was far more contemporaneous than Santa. Heck even if you use the nonsense of the atheist skeptics we see within 150 years an entire body of manuscripts and letters. Recent enough for you?

          "The story of the Christian God is ancient and shrouded in mystery"
          =>no, you confuse Christ and the Holy Spirit with Old Testament mystery. The Holy Spirit is with millions (just ask) at this moment and Christ rose from the dead about 2,000 years ago which is close to the end of what is typically considered ancient history (476AD).

          "It's been around long enough that it established itself among superstitious people with no real scientific knowledge,"
          =>Ok, now you are way off base. Jesus was crucified April 7th, 30 AD or possibly April 3rd 33 AD. The first written accounts started coming 20 years later with Mark and Paul. 20 years is not a long time and certainly not enough time for any legends to form as people were still around that saw first hand or heard about it from those who did.
          =>Most modern historians do not doubt the crucifixion even today.

          April 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
    • skytag

      "Yes! Congratulations! You have come to the crux of the issue. Christianity is a matter of FAITH."

      Yes, I'm well aware of this. Stated differently, Christianity is a collection of beliefs there is no objective reason to believe, same as with every other religion. People believe it because they want to believe it. Unfortunately, wanting something to be true doesn't make it true.

      "Christianity, just like every other religion is nothing more than a fictional narrative its adherents choose to believe because they find it more appealing than the other alternatives."

      "This is your belief as no one can definitively prove these things didn't happen. Religion is simply a group of people who share a common belief."

      Are you familiar with the principle known as Occam's Razor? My belief requires the fewest number of assumptions, as in none.

      In addition to the basic assumption that the god or gods on which a religion is based exist, every system of religious beliefs raises a number of questions. Quite a large number in the case of Christianity since the Bible is the source of many questions. Answering those questions requires even more assumptions, more unsupportable claims, more theories for which there is no supporting evidence.

      In point of fact Christianity is an elaborate web of such theories and claims, none of which is supported by any objective evidence. My "belief system" requires no such elaborate web of theories and rationalizations.

      In fact, your observation (which doesn't contradict mine, by the way) leads to a pretty obvious conundrum. As you seem to acknowledge, every religion is a set of beliefs that cannot be tested objectively. Over the course of human history there have been thousands of such belief systems, with no beliefs they all share. Given this fact, why should any rational person believer any of them are true?

      If we assume, as I think is reasonable, that the vast majority of these belief systems are the creations of sincere people striving to understand their god or gods, why do they have nothing in common? If your god is real, why hasn't he inspired every sincere seeker to at least understand one or two basic aspects of his existence right, such as the idea that there is only one god as opposed to multiple gods?

      The ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians, the Vikings, native American tribes, these and other cultures, in their sincere efforts to divine the nature of the supernatural came up with belief systems radically different from what the authors of Christianity came up with. Why would God let that happen?

      I say this is exactly what one would expect if different groups of people acting independently decided to come up with a religion. With no god of any kind out there to guide or inspire their thinking the gods they created would be purely a product of their imaginations, and the results would be what we see throughout history.

      Thus my theory is consistent historical fact. If you try to reconcile this enormous diversity in religions with the claim there is one true god who has always existed you need to come up with theories and rationalizations we both know you can't support with any evidence. The main reason I abandoned Christianity to become an atheist is that I just couldn't keep rationalizing all the time when the one obvious answer, "there is no god" so effectively addressed all these questions.

      April 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
      • DB

        “Are you familiar with the principle known as Occam's Razor? My belief requires the fewest number of assumptions, as in none.”

        Well, that’s convenient. Hard to argue against nothing. Also hard to argue for nothing…

        “Over the course of human history there have been thousands of such belief systems, with no beliefs they all share. Given this fact, why should any rational person believer any of them are true?”

        Truth does not require universal assent to be truth.

        “If we assume, as I think is reasonable, that the vast majority of these belief systems are the creations of sincere people striving to understand their god or gods, why do they have nothing in common?”

        They do have something in common. They believe in something outside themselves, something greater. A god, a pantheon, a force – something superior.

        April 3, 2014 at 11:07 am |
        • skytag

          "Well, that’s convenient. Hard to argue against nothing. Also hard to argue for nothing…"

          I don't see a problem here. If there is no god what argument is needed to support that position if it doesn't conflict with any facts or evidence? Have you invested a lot of time arguing that leprechauns aren't real?

          April 3, 2014 at 11:18 pm |
        • skytag

          "Truth does not require universal assent to be truth."

          True, but you've completely missed the point. There simply is no reason to believe any of them. None of them can or could produce any more objective evidence for their beliefs than any other.

          "They do have something in common. They believe in something outside themselves, something greater. A god, a pantheon, a force – something superior."

          So what? Human beings exhibit quite a number of fairly universal traits. One is that they seem to abhor a vacuum in their understanding of things. This need to have answers is what drives research and study of natural phenomenon, human behavior, the origin of the universal, and so on.

          Unfortunately this aversion to voids in their understanding also, on a very frequent basis, drives people to just make up answers when they can't find them through legitimate means. Once upon a time people claimed epileptic seizures were caused by demonic possessions. When people can't find answers they just make them up, and supernatural beings offer a virtually limitless source of explanations, none of which has ever been shown to be correct while most of them have been debunked over time as science has found the real explanations.

          You have no arguments here. Like every other believer on the planet you can't produce a single objective reason to believe in your god. Feel free to believe in him anyway. Believe in Santa Claus, leprechauns, vampires, even monsters under your bed if you want. Just don't try to influence public policy based on your mythical beliefs and don't act like there's something wrong with my critical thinking process because I've concluded that the reason there is no evidence of any god is that there isn't one.

          April 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm |
    • skytag

      "There is evidence. However, most of it is internal and not capable of examination under outside scrutiny."

      Then it isn't evidence, it's bias confirmation. What you call "internal evidence" or "personal evidence" is nothing more than choosing to interpret feelings or events as signs that what you want to believe is true. Lots of people choose to believe some random event is a sign of something supernatural. To them it's "personal evidence" that someone had pleased or displeased god.

      In times past this was even more common. People believed earthquakes were caused by angry gods, not shifting tectonic plates in the Earth's surface. They believed disease was caused by evil spirits and that epileptic seizures were caused by demonic possessions. Human beings have a long history filled with situations in which they simply decide, for no rational reason whatsoever, to attribute ordinary natural events to supernatural forces. Then they see those events as "personal evidence" that their beliefs about God are true.

      Without the ability to subjective evidence to external subjective scrutiny there is no way to know it's anything more than confirmation bias or even delusion. How many times have people committed some horrible act, convinced God told them to do it? Sorry, but it's beyond naive to trust anything that exists only in your head as being 100% trustworthy.

      April 2, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
    • skytag

      "Christianity is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but doesn't necessarily have outward expressions (though, admittedly, it should – such as good works, kindness, meekness, gentleness, but unfortunately, many do not display these as well as they should)."

      That's because Christianity isn't what it claims to be. By and large Christianity attracts decent people to it, people who want to be good people and believe that by being Christians God will assist them in achieving that goal. They will generally become better people, but only because of their desire to be better and the encouragement of other Christians. But since there is no God or "Spirit" performing any kind of miraculous transformation on their "hearts" or personalities the degree to which they'll be the kind of good people Christians should be is determined solely by their inherent nature.

      The ones who are naturally humble will be humble and the ones who are naturally jerks will still be jerks.

      April 2, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
    • skytag

      "Admittedly, it is a bit different, because one can't really question whether my wife exists, but I hope you'll forgive a somewhat flawed analogy, and see the point I am trying to make."

      It's not a "somewhat flawed" analogy, it's like comparing apples and oranges. It's a fatally flawed analogy. Sorry.

      April 2, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
    • skytag

      "This is an excellent point. I think the first step is to be open that God exists."

      Why? Should I also be open to the possibility that Santa Claus, leprechauns and vampires exist? If I see no reason whatsoever to believe any god exists why should I even give the matter a second thought?

      "State you are going to give it a go and be honest. Be willing to wait. Be patient."

      You completely ignored my question, even though you admit it's a good one: What's my incentive to do any of this? Why devote one minute of my life to such a pursuit? Don't take this personally, mind you. I have no intention of spending one minute of my life looking for leprechauns either.

      "But if one goes into Christianity"

      Ah, and here's another problem. Since I see no reason to believe any god of any kind exists, why should I choose Christianity as the basis for my experiment? Why not Islam? Why not Hinduism? And those are just the big three. Why not choose some other set of beliefs on which to conduct this grand experiment, such as Judaism, Shintoism or Scientology?

      But suppose for the sake of argument I settle on Christianity. Which flavor of Christianity should I choose? Should I go live with the Amish? Should I talk to the Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries? Should I take classes in Catholicism? There are hundreds of flavors of Christianity (the key reason it's so popular, by the way). How do I pick one?

      "saying, 'Ok, I'll accept God exists, now God, show up and prove Yourself to me' it's going to be a rather disappointingly long wait. He does eventually do just that. However, I find in today's world of instant gratification, it's too long for many."

      If you want to believe something, and people who "seek God" want, at some level to believe he exists, and you immerse yourself in a lifestyle that encourages you to believe it, it's almost inevitable you'll start believing it at some point. Read the Bible regularly, hang out with Christians, pray a lot, let a gifted speaker feed you what he believes every Sunday morning, sing songs proven to inspire religious feels, and partake of their rituals. Do that long enough and it won't matter which set of beliefs you picked, it's highly likely you end up coming to believe them.

      Thanks for the offer to submit myself to a long-term program of brainwashing, but I think I'll pass. I was a Christian for four decades. That's already too much time wasted on myths and fairytales, thank you.

      April 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
      • DB

        "Ah, and here's another problem. Since I see no reason to believe any god of any kind exists, why should I choose Christianity as the basis for my experiment? Why not Islam? Why not Hinduism? And those are just the big three. Why not choose some other set of beliefs on which to conduct this grand experiment, such as Judaism, Shintoism or Scientology?"

        Because of Jesus. Period. No other religion has him at the core of their narrative. No other religion has God infiltrating your world, taking on your flesh, dying in your place, and resurrecting to confirm your future with him. You may find it corny, sappy, silly, but bro, JESUS IS THE REASON.

        April 3, 2014 at 10:54 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Prometheus, Attis, Horus, Mithras, Krishna, Dionysus.

          April 3, 2014 at 11:00 am |
        • DB

          Whoops. Post-Christian, scholar-refuted copycats excluded.

          April 3, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • kermit4jc

          http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/promy.php sad to see some people desperately try to compare Jesus to other gods and say Jesus is a copy cat when there are more dissimilarities than similaritiesl...and that much of the so called similarities are not at all as such...

          April 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Prometheus pre-dates the Christ myth by 800 years!

          April 3, 2014 at 11:59 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          While not an exact carbon copies, Christ exemplifies any number of pre-established mythological archetypes.
          The wandering, miracle performing teacher – the martyred and resurrected demi-god born of a virgin – these are not characteristics that originated with nor are unique to Jesus.

          April 3, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
        • DB

          There are several problems with these “Christ-myth-pagan-copycat” theories.

          1. They have been debunked and dismissed by actual historians and serious scholars of antiquity. Take your theories to N.T. Wright, for example, and he will laugh you out of England.

          2. The narrative of Jesus does not begin with the New Testament in the first century; it begins in the Old Testament, and thus predates even the oldest of these pagan myths. The virgin birth, for example, was something that was prophesied in the OT. Jesus’ virgin birth was one of many messianic fulfillments rooted in the OT.

          3. Many of the alleged similarities are blatant fabrications and/or later additions to the pagan myths. For example, Attis was NOT born of a virgin and was NOT resurrected, at least not according to earliest versions of the story. Many other elements of this particular story were added much later, including the identification of Attis as a savior, which began in the 6th century.

          4. Other alleged similarities are just really poor, erroneous, baseless connections. Prometheus, for example, is not even close. He stole fire and was chained to mountain for his an eagle to snack on his liver. I mean, come on.

          These theories are smoke screens. They serve to distract people from the truth of the Christ narrative.

          April 3, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          AMEN

          April 4, 2014 at 1:54 am |
        • skytag

          "Because of Jesus. Period. No other religion has him at the core of their narrative."

          So what? Having a unique character in your narrative is obviously not proof it's true.

          "No other religion has God infiltrating your world, taking on your flesh, dying in your place, and resurrecting to confirm your future with him."

          So what? Your fictional religious narrative has a fictional character in named Jesus.

          "You may find it corny, sappy, silly, but bro, JESUS IS THE REASON."

          More evidence religion makes people stupid. What reason do I have to believe your claims involving Jesus have any basis in reality? If your God is real why did he make you so dumb?

          April 3, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
        • skytag

          @Doc Vestibule: This is a red herring. So what if the Jesus figure is unique? Lots of fictional works have unique central characters. Anyone who thinks that proves Christianity is true has rocks for brains. It may be the dumbest argument I've ever heard.

          April 3, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
      • DB

        "But suppose for the sake of argument I settle on Christianity. Which flavor of Christianity should I choose? Should I go live with the Amish? Should I talk to the Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries? Should I take classes in Catholicism? There are hundreds of flavors of Christianity (the key reason it's so popular, by the way). How do I pick one?"

        “There are too many flavors in this ice cream shop, mom; let’s just leave,” said no kid ever.

        You seem to have a problem with diversity and choice, at least as far as religions and denominations go. If truth is truth, it should be obvious to everyone, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Not in religion, not in any field, really. Theologians, historians, scientists, anthropologists, etc. will tell you that sometimes you have to investigate and decide for yourself.

        If, for the sake of argument, you settled on Christianity, I’m not sure it would matter too much which denomination you chose. The doctrinal differences, while not altogether insignificant, are far less significant than we Christians have maintained over the centuries. What matters most is your connection to Jesus.

        "I was a Christian for four decades. That's already too much time wasted on myths and fairytales, thank you."

        Those are a lot of years to walk away from. I would like to know, if you care to share, what brought you to the faith and what made you finally turn away?

        April 3, 2014 at 11:01 am |
        • skytag

          "You seem to have a problem with diversity and choice, at least as far as religions and denominations go."

          Any rational person has a problem with the lack of any commonality among the world's religions. If there really were a god, why hasn't he inspired and guided sincere seekers to understand at least something about his nature? Does he just not care if you devote your life to a religion that gets it all wrong?

          If you tell 100 people who observed an event to write a short story about it you'll get 100 different stories, but their stories will share a lot of common elements. They'll differ in the detail, but if you ask them to write about a football game you won't get any stories about a monster truck rally.

          If you tell 100 people who have no interaction with one another to write a fictional short story about anything they wish you'll get a bunch of stories that have nothing in common. One might be a murder mystery and another might be about aliens in another galaxy.

          Likewise, if 100 cultures develop religious systems based on a real god I expect them to have a good bit in common, or at least agree on the basics such as the number of gods. The simplest and most obvious reason we don't see in the world's religions that is that all of them are just made up out of people's imaginations with no inspiration or guidance from any god because there were no such gods to inspire them.

          "If truth is truth, it should be obvious to everyone, right?"

          People aren't always willing to see the truth. They often prefer comforting lies to harsh truths. Religions are a classic example of this, but it's also true in politics. People say they want an honest politician until one tells them something they don't want to hear, and then they can't abandon him fast enough.

          "Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Not in religion, not in any field, really. Theologians, historians, scientists, anthropologists, etc. will tell you that sometimes you have to investigate and decide for yourself."

          I prefer to do my investigating within the confines of reality. I see no more reason to investigate god than I do to investigate leprechauns or unicorns, and other than taking your word for it that Jesus is real you haven't been able to produce a single reason I should.

          April 4, 2014 at 12:34 am |
        • skytag

          "Those are a lot of years to walk away from. I would like to know, if you care to share, what brought you to the faith"

          I was raised a Baptist and switched to another denomination when I was in graduate school. Basically I was raised that way. This is how most people come to believe what they believe about God.

          April 4, 2014 at 1:17 am |
        • skytag

          "and what made you finally turn away?"

          Christians expend a good bit of energy rationalizing why the real world doesn't match what they believe. If you look around at the real world there is no objective evidence that any supernatural force has ever affected the outcome of any event.

          There is no evidence that God has ever answered any prayer. Believers like to believe this or that outcome was an answer to their prayers, but there is never an objective reason to believe that. Two moms pray that God will heal their sick kids. One dies and the other lives. The mom of the kid who lives believes it was a miracle. The mom of the kid who died sits around making excuses for why God didn't answer her prayers. I, on the other hand, simply note that sometimes people die and sometimes they get well.

          In essence this is what Christians do. They pray for specific outcomes, such as surviving a serious illness, passing a test, for god to "soften" someone's heart, and so on. Thousands of things. What they prayed for either comes to pass or it doesn't because that's how things work. You get well or you don't. You pass the test or you don't. But ether way Christians make up a story so the outcome is compatible with their religious beliefs, and if they got lucky they tell themselves it proves there is a god.

          Truth is, if there is a God he has the easiest job in the world. He doesn't have to do squat. When things turn out good he gets the credit and when they don't his followers make excuses for him.

          There is no statistical evidence supporting the idea that there is a god. For example, if you look at divorce rates among Christians there is nothing about them that needs a supernatural explanation. Any small differences in their divorce rates and divorce rates in the general population can easily be explained by ordinary things such as Christians encouraging behaviors that increase the chances a marriage will be successful. You can't find one statistic about Christians such as divorce rates, life expectancy, cancer survival rates, infant mortality rates, and so on that suggests any God is doing squat for you people.

          Christians believe God can change people's hearts, and in fact frequently pray for such an outcome. So why didn't God change Hitler's heart or Stalin's? It's okay, I know you'll have some excuse. Christians always have excuses. What they don't have is a shred of evidence supporting anything they believe about God.

          Supposedly it's really, really important I believe in God, yet it's not important enough for him to give me any reason to believe in him because, according to Christians, then we wouldn't need faith. How convenient.

          So to answer your question, I finally got to a point where I couldn't keep rationalizing and making excuses for why the world didn't match all those things I believed as a Christian. Life it much simpler now that I know the answer to all those questions is that there is no god.

          Why didn't God change Hitler's heart? Because there is no God.

          Why didn't God heal your kid after you prayed for him? Because there is no God.

          If it's so important for every zygote/embryo/fetus to survive and be born why does God allow millions to die every year in miscarriages and spontaneous abortions? Because there is no God.

          What did all the carnivores on the ark eat after the flood since at that point there were only two of any species they would normally eat? Not only are two rabbits not enough to sustain a fox population, but as soon as one of them was eaten rabbits would be doomed to extinction. Answer: The ark story is a child's fairytale. It never happened.

          See how easy that is? No rationalizing, no years of study needed, none of that, just one simple, clean answer that answers all the questions and is consistent with all objective evidence: There is no god and all the stories in the Bible involving miracles are fairytales.

          You folks, on the other hand, are constantly making excuses, using your imagination to come up with "God could have" speculations, and resorting to truly tortured logic to answer these and hundreds of other questions. I know, because I was one of you for decades.

          April 4, 2014 at 1:39 am |
    • skytag

      By the way, I'd even willing to consider statistical evidence. Is there any statistical evidence supporting anything Christians believe? Are their divorce and infidelity rates too low to be explained without resorting to supernatural explanations? Do they live longer, have higher cancer survival rates, or lower infant mortality rates?

      Is there any statistic that sets Christians apart from other religions or atheists that can only be explained by crediting God or the Spirit or some such thing?

      April 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm |
      • DB

        "Do they live longer, have higher cancer survival rates, or lower infant mortality rates?"

        Not necessarily. This is not a tenet of Christian belief. In fact, Christians of the early church could actually expect to die sooner than non-Christians, from Roman persecution. Being a follower of Christ does not make one immune to tragedy or suffering.

        "Is there any statistic that sets Christians apart from other religions or atheists that can only be explained by crediting God or the Spirit or some such thing?"

        I don’t think there are any outlets monitoring all people who come to Christ in Christian churches throughout the world every week, and recording the various ways their lives/character/perspectives/relationships change over a significant period of time during their journey with Christ, then comparing those results to all the non-Christians whom they are also monitoring. I imagine any such statistics would have a pretty large non-response bias.

        April 3, 2014 at 10:42 am |
        • skytag

          More excuses. The point is that there is no objective evidence to support the idea that there is any God doing anything to your life live any better.

          April 4, 2014 at 1:45 am |
    • toleranceofall

      @toleranceofall: "What good would me showing you do?"

      Well, at the very minimum it would prove you actually have something to show.

      You seem to think that I have to prove *anything* to you? Why would I care?

      "You're not *actually* interested."

      You don't actually have any evidence.

      Speculation.

      "You'd merely ignore it or criticize it or ridicule it."

      So what? If that's how people respond to it that's their choice. Why should anyone consider your "evidence" above criticism? Can it not withstand objective scrutiny? Are you afraid people will point out alternative explanations you can't refute, thus poking a hole in your confirmation bias?

      No, I just don't feel the need to lower myself to listening to your obvious contempt for Christianity. I don't listen to Richard Dawkins either, because frankly, he's interested in any answer BUT Christianity being the answer.

      "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." — Matthew 5:11, 12

      You don't sound like someone who feels blessed and exceeding glad when people ridicule your beliefs. You sound like a typical whiney Christian fraud. It's easy to talk the Christian talk. Walking the Christian walk is much harder.

      This is amusing. You try to take a scripture out of context and then use it against me. However, if you actually had read and understood what that was talking about, you wouldn't be making this statement. Christians endure persecution (and by the way, I don't consider this persecution. Many of my brothers and sisters are enduring much worse than some person on the Internet lamblasting their faith with baseless statements), they don't encourage it. Jesus also said, "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." This sounds like a more accurate reason why I am not giving you anything.

      "In fact, you and/or one of the other people who dislike Christianity is probably going to ridicule this post now."

      It deserves ridicule. All you're doing is whining and making excuses because you know your "evidence" can't withstand objective scrutiny.

      Speculation.

      I'm not going to be baited by you. I have my evidence. You're not interested in actually hearing it, you're interested in making a mockery of it. So why bother?

      April 3, 2014 at 10:51 am |
      • skytag

        "I'm not going to be baited by you. I have my evidence. You're not interested in actually hearing it, you're interested in making a mockery of it. So why bother?"

        Sorry, but this isn't my first rodeo, as they say. I've had more people then I can possibly remember claim they had evidence and not one of them has ever presented any objective evidence. Their evidence invariably turns out to be nothing more than some feeling they experienced or some event they decided to believe was a miracle, a sign, or some such thing, something that depended on them to interpret it as evidence.

        Maybe you're different. Maybe you really have evidence that can't be explained any other way, but if so that would make you the rarest of creatures, and that would raise a different question: Why is real evidence so exceedingly rare? If it's so important for people to come to know God, why does he give the vast majority of us no reason to believe he exists?

        April 5, 2014 at 1:48 am |
  11. skytag

    @kermit4jc: How the ark could hold the animals and their food is just one of many serious issues any thinking person would have with the ark story.

    – How did Noah gather animals from all the Earth? How did he get a pair of Galapagos tortoises from the Galapagos Islands? How did he get penguins from Antarctica? The Bible doesn't say God transported them to the ark.

    – How did the animals get back to their native habitats?

    – What would everyone, people and animals, eat after the waters receded? If the entire Earth is submerged for 40 days what food would survive for anyone to eat? I'm not aware of any food you can submerge underwater for 40 days without ruining it.

    – Many species cannot have viable populations consisting of a single male and a single female. Bees, for example, need thousands of workers in a hive for it to be viable. You simply can't have a viable bee colony with two bees.

    – What would carnivores eat after the flood was over? Suppose, for example, there was a pair of wolves on the ark. Wolves eat small animals like rabbits. But there would only be one pair of rabbits after the flood. Ditto for any animals the wolves would normally eat. If they eat even one other animal that species would be doomed to extinction because there would only be one left. As soon as a lion ate a gazelle that would be the end of gazelles. Nothing in the ark story addresses this obvious problem.

    In nature animals lower on the food chain exist in far greater numbers than the top predators.

    – If the Earth were covered in water for 40 days what was left when the water magically returned to its normal levels would not be pretty. The vast majority of land plants would be dead and rotting. All the animals and people who weren't on the ark would be dead and rotting.

    – Where did all the water come from and where did it go after the flood ended. The amount of water needed to cover the entire world is far too much to be stored in the atmosphere as water vapor. Even if the world was completely flat (and even according to the Bible it wasn't), you'd need at least 20' of water just to float your 45' tall ark. The atmosphere simply does not hold anywhere near that much water.

    – One has to wonder how eight people, only four of which were men, could build a 450'x75'x45' boat with three floors in it out of wood they harvested themselves, using only hand tools for every step, and how long it took.

    The obvious and simplest answer to all these questions is, "It's just a story. It didn't really happen." You are obviously incapable of accepting that answer so you'll either insult me for asking them, dodge them by acting like it's stupid to even ask them, or you'll offer a collection of "answers" that are not supported by the biblical account of the flood and ignore scientific realities.

    You're welcome to make up stuff to believe to keep reality at bay, but I don't need to do that. "It didn't happen" works just find for me.

    April 2, 2014 at 5:01 am |
  12. Salero21

    Today is the day for atheists. The Bible says so!!!

    April 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
  13. Salero21

    Well atheists; What can I say? If even in a place like Hollywood they're not listening to the likes of you. Then even in this world you're doomed!! So... how do you think you're going to make it in the other place that IS NOT Heaven.

    April 1, 2014 at 6:28 pm |
    • meatheist

      Hell does not exist. I am not worried about it.

      April 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      oh sally, it is your hell not mine...you will be the one who gets to enjoy it for being the hateful judgmental child you are-not that it exists but if it did.

      April 1, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
    • skytag

      Christians like you are some of the best evidence I know that Christianity is a fraud. No real Christian would troll the Internet posting obnoxious comments hoping to taunt total strangers.

      April 1, 2014 at 9:34 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.