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The atheistic views of the AD editors are no secret to anyone familiar with the webzine, but we prefer to write articles refuting claims specific to Armstrongism. It’s just more interesting to us. However, we have encountered a general hostility toward atheism among certain so-called counter-cultists that we feel needs to be addressed. The folks over at “Exit and Support Network” and, especially, “Mike’s Enlightenment Page” offer up a representative sampling of this inadequately informed (or, it must be proposed, dishonest) attitude toward atheism.
So, in the interest of promoting understanding and combating the enemies of reason (two activities that are the heart and core of our anti-Armstrongism, after all) we will take the time to unpack and examine the anti-atheist writings of Mike and his associate, “D.W.” It will become quickly apparent to the intelligent reader that it is actually Mike et al. who are in need of enlightenment.
First, a word about the site in question. It is the author’s well-considered opinion that ESN is nothing more substantial than a common Christian proselytizing effort, albeit with a counter-cult focus. It should be noted that the counter-cult movement was begun by Christian fundamentalists. One does not need to be too imaginative to guess at their motives for doing so. Labeling other self-identifying Christian groups as “cults”, on the basis of their beliefs that differ from one’s own, is a good way to shore up one’s own particular faith. It is also a good way to poach straggling followers.
Contrast this with the less self-interested efforts of secularists who take on cults (an activity referred to by the term “anti-cult” activism or “cult criticism” to distinguish it from counter-cult ministries). Whereas counter-cultists define a cult by its adherence to unorthodox brands of Christianity, the anti-cult definition of the word “cult” has less to do with religious beliefs than with the tactics of the groups they criticize, and their activism is obviously not religiously motivated.
ESN and Mike’s Page are intensely religious counter-cult ministries. As such they are not interested in truth (much less “enlightenment”), but rather in promoting a specific view of Christianity as the “true” Christian orthodoxy, while labeling all others “heretical.” This, of course, is a violation of logic in the form of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy (which will be featured in this week’s Friday Fallacy piece), derived from a fallacious reification of Christianity as an abstract idea into Christianity as an inviolable, concrete reality. And that just ain’t right.
The first of these manifestos of ignorance we will address is “Why Do Many Exiters of Armstrongism Turn to Agnosticism or Atheism?”, by “D.W.”
D.W. (or, Damn Wrong, as we shall call him–we will also assume this person is male; fair enough, ladies?), presumes to answer this question himself instead of allowing those who have undertaken such an intellectual coup to speak for themselves. An interesting choice on the part of Mr. Wrong. It is no wonder that he hasn’t a clue what he is talking about.
He spends most of this rambling essay trying to sell his own delusion of orthodoxy, as per the modus operandi of his ministry. But there are a few statements randomly sprinkled therein that speak directly to the question at hand. One is his naked assertion that former Armstrongists turn to agnosticism or atheism (not mutually exclusive, by the way) because Armstrong made them think they had no alternative.
Many, when exiting, are unable to believe in anything anymore. Isn’t this exactly what Herbert Armstrong wanted? If we didn’t believe in his “truth” or his “god” he didn’t want us to believe in anything ever again. It was as if he said, “You will do it my way, or you will not do any way. You will believe in my god, or you will not believe in any god.” As a result, some exiters go in many false directions, such as New Age ideas, mysticism, joining unusual sects or offshoots, and even more turn to agnosticism or unbelief–anything except Christianity. Why? Because Herbert Armstrong, for the most part, succeeded in moving members’ minds away from ever trusting in, or believing in, any spiritual belief system outside his “true church.” It was programmed into members’ minds to hate (and fear) Orthodox Christianity.
I wonder if Wrong believes in the existence of atheists who were never associated with Armstrong in any way. Presumably the only way Wrong can imagine a person coming to atheism is by being “programmed” to hate “Orthodox Christianity” by Armstrong. Anyway, atheism is not a rejection of Christianity, it is the non-belief in gods, and there are other gods besides the Christian pantheon Wrong prefers to fantasize about.
I’ve got news for Damn Wrong: all the atheists I know and have heard of and have read books by (and that’s a large number)–all of them–have come to atheism by way of a careful consideration of the relevant arguments. They reject theism because it is a baseless theory in general, not because they have been poisoned against it by a bad experience with some specific theology. Most atheists have never even heard of Armstrong, nor have they been members of a cult.
And speaking of arguments, where are they in Wrong’s declaration of ignorance? Does he ever get around to explaining why ex-Armstrongists are mistaken to accept arguments for atheism? Well, no. He simply pretends they don’t exist, and therefore does not address them. Clever guy.
He later remarks that
If we choose to dump the whole lie and decide the answers are found in reading books by agnostics and atheists (known as “free-thinkers”), we will find ourselves–perhaps permanently–turned in that direction. We may call it “shunning religion,” and “being free,” but we are actually turning our back on the true Creator who loves us and who has made a way for us to have every spiritual blessing through the true Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we are choosing to take a chance that there is no judgment and no responsibility for anything we may do.
There’s a lot of wrong in those three sentences. Let’s see if we can unpack it all.
First notice the Freudian slip: “if we choose to dump the whole lie…” It’s as if he knows, deep down, that there really is no baby in the bathwater.
He then goes on to tell atheists what they think about what they are doing: “shunning religion…being free.”
How about pursuing truth?
Surely atheists aren’t interested in that, the filthy ingrates! Wrong knows very little about atheists, or what he knows he isn’t telling.
Next he hits us with a Christian preachment, as though, again, the “true” Christian version of a god is the only one worth questioning. What if we atheists have “turned our backs” on Vishnu? Well, in that case, Wrong is in the same predicament. A true believer would never consider that possibility though. The lack of self-awareness on this arrogant hack makes him blind to the beam in his own eye, and what would his “savior” have to say about that?
Of course, no screed against atheism would be complete without reference to the infamous Pascal’s wager, which is the height of intellectual cowardice and outrageously stupid to boot.
Tacked onto this is his insinuation that atheists disbelieve in gods so they can pretend there is “no responsibility for anything we may do.” Right. Which is why atheists routinely rape, murder, and steal. Wait. Actually, they don’t. Huh. Even though Jesus isn’t watching to see who’s naughty or nice? Nope. Statistically speaking atheists behave as morally as anyone else and they are, mysteriously enough, not overrepresented in prison populations (and in fact, some data sets show an under-representation). You’d think if we were atheists so we could get away with murder (etc.), we’d be doing more of what we fled faith for. The worst that ever happens at the atheist meetups I go to is the consumption of Anheuser-Busch products. In fact, most atheists I’ve encountered also consider themselves secular humanists, i.e., ethicists of the highest order. The truth of the matter is exactly the opposite of what Wrong would have you believe: the average atheist’s atheism goes hand-in-hand with their lofty ethical views.
Wrong reassures us that “If what we choose is agnosticism, or atheism, and the negativity which almost always goes with it, we are free to go that way.” Well, gee golly Mr. Wrong, that sure is nice of you to let us disbelieve your myths. But what is this “negativity” he speaks of? What about all the negativity toward atheism that accompanies Wrong’s brand of theism?
Well, to be fair, what Wrong is hinting at here is the old, presumptuous canard that atheism equals nihilism–that if we don’t believe in his god, we don’t believe in anything and nothing matters to us. The truth is, Wrong, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
So Mikey got a letter from an atheist, which he fails to reproduce or even quote from. So we’ll have to take him at his word when he claims to have written a response to this letter. That is to say, we’ll just assume that Mikey is responding to the actual content of the letter (instead of just ignoring any arguments and merely dashing off a sermon, as is more likely), although judging by the content of Mike’s “response” the only thing that can be said about the letter he is responding to is that it must have been short and toothless. Convenient for Mikey, in other words. This alleged “response” was published under the title “Mike’s Answer to an Atheist.”
The first thing to happen is the dismissal of a (rather weak) charge of profiteering. “ESN does not use ‘religion for a racket’…Please take note of how much money you think we are making! We have only enough to pay for mailings, internet expenses, etc.” Wait. They ask for donations? To cover what? Internet expenses? Well, have no fear, Armstrong Delusion will never ask for money, even though it costs us upwards of 25 dollars per year to retain ownership of armstrongdelusion.com. All of our content is published online free of cost to you. And what’s more, we will never ask you for tithes or offerings. But most importantly, we will never ask you to believe the unbelievable. Mike is not so scrupulous, though…
I do not attend church services, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have fellowship with the Lord Jesus. He shows Himself to me daily, answering prayers and protecting me and my family. He also fights for me. He changed my heart totally.
No evidence, though. He hangs out with Jesus, who “shows himself” to Mike daily (not sure what that’s about, but it sounds campy), has his prayers answered and is protected by Jesus (who even gets into scraps for him, apparently), and he even has a rather significant muscle in his chest totally altered in some way he fails to describe! But he doesn’t go into details as far as how he knows all of this is true. He just blithely asserts wild claims about a supposedly invisible, intangible, tasteless, odorless, and mute man he seems to be madly in love with, and pretends as though he is in a relationship with him. That’s what we normal people call an imaginary friend (gay, apparently, in this case). But the skeptic just doesn’t understand, or so Mike would have you believe:
Unless you have close fellowship with the Lord Jesus, you cannot understand what I am talking about. This sounds like your case. It’s like trying to explain to a starving person in Ethiopia what a steak dinner is.
Isn’t that just what a delusional person would say though? “What? You can’t see my friend Harvey, the six-foot rabbit? Well, you just aren’t in tune with the deeper reality that I, in my smug superiority, have been granted to experience.” Arrogance is a coping mechanism for the delusional, it seems. They can’t convince everyone that their delusional, subjective experiences have some external reality, and so they pretend that everyone else is somehow inferior. But it’s a shallow ploy that doesn’t get much traction with the wise.
We all know the truth of the matter: Mike is not privy to knowledge and objective experiences that are beyond the ken of the rest of us. He merely believes what he claims to know. He responds to a confirmation bias in favor of Christianity by rationalizing supernatural causes for effects that have entirely natural explanations. And knowing this is the case somewhere down in his miserable little theist’s brain, he revolts against this knowledge by inventing a special status for himself and those who agree with him.
That is why I can only be sad for you as an angry non-believer. I know what you are missing in life and yet it is so easy to receive what He has to give. I would pass Scriptures on to you to prove my point, but obviously you would just trash them.
Ah, yes: the “angry non-believer” line. What the hell is so bad about anger anyway? Anger is a useful and valid emotion. But if you don’t wish to address the arguments of your opponent directly, it is a tactic of first resort (at least if you are a sophist like Mike) to label her as “angry” or “militant” or “disrespectful,” or anything really. As long as you can avoid the content of her arguments and paint her as a bad person, you just might be able to “win” the argument without having to defend your position, which you know can’t stand up to a slight rhetorical breeze.
And Mike knows what atheists are missing in life: we have a God (read “Yahweh” for clarity) shaped hole in our hearts (there’s that muscle again!). Of course. But what would things look like if we didn’t need his god? Just the same as if we did. In other words, Mike is just making shit up.
Then he says he would use scripture to prove his point. Huh? What point? And how are you going to use “God’s word” to “prove” anything to an atheist, let alone that God is real? Any atheist worth her salt will tell you that that is circular reasoning. But then you can’t really count on the delusional to be reasonable.
It sounds like you have much anger in your heart. I have peace. Don’t you want that?
What Mike is pretending not to understand is that some people are not willing or able to swallow great untruths just to have some transitory peace of mind. What he is hoping to foist upon his readers, though, is the easy sense that something comforting must be true. And this is all assuming, in any event, that Christianity would be as comforting for his readers as he finds it to be personally. But none of this speaks to the truth or falsity of the positions in question. And what’s more, Mike is offering his reader a false dilemma: either atheism is true (and who would want to be an atheist, since it is about as comfortable as living in Manhattan?) or it’s Mike’s brand of Christianity. He leaves out literally thousands of other possibilities.
Then Mike goes for the fire and brimstone. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? He’s an Orthodox Christian™ remember.
What happens if you do appear before the throne of judgment? What will you answer? I would start to think about this if I were you.
And Mike wonders what atheists have to be angry about. This is called Pascal’s wager, as mentioned before. It’s the idea that one can, if one wishes to, choose to believe in Yahweh on the off chance he happens to exist. After all, if you bet against him and he does in fact exist, he’ll roast your ass eternally for having the integrity to follow the evidence where it leads, instead of engaging in wishful thinking and weaseling around the truth in search of existential comfort and the illusion of self-preservation. For Mike’s god, honesty is decidedly not the best policy, courage is neither here nor there, and what really counts is blind, even pretended, belief (otherwise known as faith, believing without evidence what one would otherwise find silly). There are so many things wrong with using this ridiculous gamble as an argument that it would require a separate article just to briefly describe all of its flaws. Not least among them is the outrageous assertion that one has nothing to lose if one believes erroneously–yeah, nothing except what arises as a result of entertaining a warped world-view, which certainly shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?
Who is your god now? The world? Sex? Satan? Money? The god of nothing?
This is really precious. Theists are so steeped in their need to prostrate themselves that they project it onto everyone. They just can’t imagine not worshiping something, so they must posit a god for atheists. “Is it fast cars? Hamburgers? The Hokey-Pokey? Memes? Anime fansubs? The Tenori-on? This game? Come on, it’s gotta be something! You can’t just not bow down before something so I can feel good about my own decision to worship something surely greater! Damn you!” Nope. Sorry, theists. We atheists, get this, don’t believe in gods! It’s not that we don’t believe in supernatural gods, but we commit idolatry by worshiping earthly delights instead. We. Don’t. Believe. In. Gods. Okay, Mikey? Got it? So there is no god to commit idolatry against, right? Right. Not even “the god of nothing,” right? Right. So, there is no worshiping of breasts, right? Right. Poor theists. Next item of stupidity…
You are another case of a person who was ruined by Worldwide Church of God.
Wow. “Ruined.” Atheism equals ruined. How so, Mikey? Care to elaborate? No, he doesn’t. He’s just being an arrogant ass. He has no argument, no reason for making this outrageous remark except to prop up his own sagging, decadent ego. Note that the humble Christian Mike considers you “ruined” if you don’t accept the same myths as he does. I hope you, dear reader, are exactly as impressed as I am with his assessment.
in Jesus name you are duly warned that, even though you were hurt by a false church, you are still held accountable to the one and only true God.
Oh, no he di-in’t. He said that in “Jesus name!” You know what that means. It means he thinks, unaccountably, that anything after those magic words becomes extra true instead of patently false! Just like that. Don’t have a shred of evidence to support your claims? Just say “abracadabra!” and people will be mesmerized by the power of your imaginary friend into believing anything you pull out of your ass. “Held accountable?” Really? To whom, again? “The one and only true God,” you say? Yeah. Got it. He doesn’t exist. Nice story though.
Why do theists think that, failing to provide any evidence for their gods (the thing atheists require for considering a turn away from the dark side), they can just threaten them into believing by reference to the tender, homicidal, sadistic mercies of a being they don’t believe exists? “Don’t believe in God, huh? Well you will as soon as you hear what the god you don’t believe in does to unbelievers in the afterlife you don’t believe in!”
You and I know better: they’re only trying to convince themselves. That’s what it’s all about. Mike is just affirming to himself his belief in the unbelievable by threatening an unbeliever with the threats he’s put in his god’s mouth. Mike’s only purpose is to make Mike feel good about himself, which is why he doesn’t even need to address his opponent’s arguments, whatever they may have been. He doesn’t give a shit about truth, only comfort–his own comfort.
To conclude, Mike enlightens us with the three things he thinks we atheists must do to avoid being tortured for eternity by his loving god:
All you need do is:
1. Realize your sins have separated you from God.
2. Believe that Jesus died in your place.
3. Accept Him by faith; ask Him to save you and come into your life.
Unfortunately Mike forgot a requirement.
4. Abandon reason, integrity, and courage, the hallmarks of your atheism, and become a bloated, arrogant, foolish coward like Mike instead.
No thanks, Mikey. Your raging, murderous psychopath, Yahweh, would be lucky to have me; the association would, as they say, look better on his resume than on mine. But, thanks be to Tenori-on, he’s a no show. So, you can keep your faith and I’ll keep my integrity. Deal?
Wait. Skrrrrtttch. There’s more…
Beneath his letter, Mike has included a few more useless potshots at atheists. I will address these posthaste!
Under the subheading “Are Atheists Happy?” (a subject which is completely ignored by the paragraph that follows) Mike trots out the old standby that atheism is responsible for the atrocities that took place under totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, since, you know, Stalin happened to be an atheist. Presumably, the catastrophes had nothing to do with autocrats drunk on power or inhumane ideologies. No. It was a lack of belief in gods at the state level that caused these mass homicides of, I daresay, near biblical proportions (Yahweh’s body count is higher than any mere Communist’s). Does Mike realize, I wonder, that besides atheism, Stalin also smoked a pipe and sported a mustache, and that Communists were fond of the color red? Perhaps he should look into the ominous implications of these other coincidences as well. In any case, the subject has been dealt with ad nauseum elsewhere (for example, here is a good treatment of it) and yet the anti-atheist hate-mongers go on blithely asserting this canard as though it were original with their generation. I won’t waste any more time on this particular nonsense, but you may if you are still unsure what to think.
With “What About Thomas Paine’s Book?” we are treated to some whining over the fact that The Age of Reason has gotten so much good press, and some feverish character assassination against good old Tom. Isn’t it enough that he was almost beheaded by the French for not being an atheist and despicably marginalized by his own country for not being a Christian? Now we have this Mike…who the hell is Mike? Did Mike ever help found a nation? And here he is presuming to bad mouth a dead man who is, even as a rotting corpse, a thousand times his better. But that’s not going far enough for the ever gratuitous Mike. No, after pissing on a hero’s grave, Mike concludes by, unsurprisingly, repeating a fabricated death-bed conversion story (what else?), which is one of the Christians’ favored tactics–the pious frauds. Paine’s has been around for a long time, though, likely since before he died. You can read about it in this manuscript–if you have good eyes.
And then the comic relief. A subheading comes up: “Refuting Common Atheist Claims,” followed by…
One pathetic little link to an external source that refutes (or so Mike is confident) one “atheist claim.” One! And get this. It’s not even a “common” atheist claim! It’s not even a claim upon which atheism even remotely depends! It is, in fact, not an atheist claim, but merely an anti-Christian claim.
That’s all they’ve got over at ESN, where two dimwits presumed to speak out against atheism–of all things! And they couldn’t even do what little they did by their own rhetorical powers. They had to outsource their refutation, a refutation that proves nothing and fails outright to address the position of atheism at all! It is all so pathetic. They do not present, nor do they address, any of the arguments for atheism, pretending it is enough to cast aspersions, use fear tactics, and generally cajole their readers into dismissing atheism without a hearing.
With their characteristic limp wrist they lodge one final parting shot in the form of a small smattering of quotes from atheists, taken out of context and mined for their value at deceiving readers about the nature of atheism and atheists. Thus this Mike and D.W. team concrete their identity as feckless liars and cynical proselytizers of the psychologically and emotionally wounded. It is not surprising that scumbags like these would take aim at atheists with a bungling propaganda campaign, one which I have, I trust, thoroughly debunked for your enjoyment.