An Open Letter to the Religious

I’d like to take a moment to write an article speaking directly to those of you that are religious. This is a completely honest, me to you letter, asking you to indulge in taking a step back and evaluating your religion. I promise this will not take long, and I’m not asking you to “become an atheist for a day” or anything like that. We are just considering propositions.

Not all of you are willing to do that, and I get it. If you aren’t open to examining your religion from the outside, this letter will likely not resonate with you at all. But for many of you, your intellectual curiosity may be willing to hear me out. If this is you, then I appreciate it greatly.

Let’s consider the landscape of world religions. All religions. Right now in the world, there are approximately 10,000 religions. Practicing these religions are many intelligent, thoughtful, logical people. I have personally met many of them. If we were to speak to a Muslim or Sikh or Hindu medical doctor, it is safe to assume that this person is no dolt. Medical school, in any country, is a lengthy and difficult process involving memorizing thousands of body parts and chemicals and functions, how they all interact with each other, constant logical evaluation of symptoms, and the ability to make determinations and recommend treatment for thousands of ailments. Yet that doctor still believes in a particular religion that you believe is false.

Have you ever considered, and I mean REALLY considered, why these really intelligent and competent people still believe in their religions? Does it make you wonder why someone that saves lives by being logical and correct also believes in something you believe is completely wrong? Can you actually put yourself in their place and see why they believe, and could you explain where they are wrong?

Let’s consider what many would call outlandish or cartoonish claims of other religions. It is easy from the outside to identify fanciful elements of someone else’s religion, such as the Muslim belief that Muhammed rode a winged horse to heaven. Yet billions of Christians believe Jesus rose body and soul to heaven. As Sam Harris has cleverly noted, why is the addition of a winged horse the only thing that makes the claim absurd? Indeed, every religion has absurd claims. And if true, they would be truly outstanding! If Jesus really flew, or Muhammed really rode a winged horse, it would be a world-altering experience for any witnesses, and a legitimate miracle.

But which one is actually true, if either? What criteria can we develop to determine if these claims are true or false, other than lots of people believing in the one they were taught? What can we study to determine if they are true or false? And since I’m asking you to be completely honest here, if you are able to determine a method to identify a false religious claim, will your religious claim be able to stand up to the scrutiny as well?

Let’s consider the idea of your belief because of how your religion stands above the others. For example, I have heard many people say that only their religion has a god that does such-and-such. The such-and-such could be dying for our sins, or established a moral law, has a personal relationship with you, or grew into a major world religion from humble beginnings. Have you discussed the superiority of your religious belief with anyone? I not only imagine this would be extremely satisfying to believe in a correct and superior belief, I actually used to believe I believed in the superior belief. You really feel comfortable that this is the way you believe it to be, possibly something you couldn’t fathom being any other way.

Now again, let’s take a step back and survey the religious landscape. While every religion is unique in some way or another (otherwise they wouldn’t be different religions), the world religions are on a spectrum. To a non-believer like me, I don’t see anything in any one religion that really stands out as being worthy of consideration. If you tell me your savior died for your sins, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that claim the same. If you tell me only your religion had a prophet that wrote down the words of god, or that only your religion still follows that original lineage, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that claim the same thing. If you claim only your religion grew exponentially, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that also grew remarkably quick or quicker. If you claim it isn’t a religion but a relationship….. that’s literally what every adherent to every religion thinks. The nature of the relationship is the only difference. And if you think your religion is the most moral, I can easily find religions that have moral codes that could be objectively considered more moral.

So if you believe your religion is superior or the only one “true” religion, can you honestly find something in your religion that truly makes it so? I know you can list a whole lot of things about your religion that you think are great, but why do you think they are the best? How do you know they aren’t just “pretty good?” And again, if you were to be completely honest, is there anything about your religion you think could be way better? If you were literally god for a day, with all the power in the universe to set up everything, would you have done anything different? Would childhood leukemia and rape be less frequent, or even non-existent, in your universe? Would clarifying your desires so people don’t kill each other in your name be something you would try?

Let’s consider our fallible senses, and our fallible memories as well. We know the game of telephone results in wrong and often hilarious misinterpretations. We know that a day riding the rollercoasters causes all sorts of odd sensations, sometimes hours later. We know we can be tricked by the illusionists who really are just pulling a trick. We know people can hallucinate for a lot of reasons that don’t involve drugs, including lack of sleep or food, stress, traumatic experiences, and sensory deprivation. We know that people’s memory of an event can be altered through suggestion. We know that people’s memory of an event can just be wrong! We know that damage or pressure to specific parts of the brain can result in quite interesting effects, like the inability to recognize faces despite being able to read and pass any eye test. Damage another part of the brain and you might be able to read or write but become unable to speak. Some people can barely speak, but when singing have a full, rich voice. And certain brain damage or disease results in a change or loss of someone’s entire personality.

Do you think it possible that people of other religions have convinced themselves, based on poorly interpreting their fallible senses, that their religion is real? If so, how are you able to determine that you aren’t misinterpreting your own senses? What is the difference between them praying earnestly and feeling clarity, and you praying earnestly and feeling clarity?

If you have read this far, and not skipped to the end, I think you will at least UNDERSTAND why I am an atheist. But I am interested in hearing what you think. Where am I wrong? Is there really something about your religion that stands out from the “false” religions? Is there any feature of your religion that truly makes it stand above the fray, and is worth considering?

As always, my comment section is open for discussion. And as always, if you don’t address the questions I have posed, and just try to preach and post links to youtube videos, I will delete your comments. Thanks in advance!

The Spartan Atheist

30 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Religious

  1. Well written. I seriously doubt any theist would want to answer or would be able to answer. I guess they may claim that they believe certain prophesies from their holly books are true, miracles happen, prayers are answered and that makes their god a real god. Apart from that sort of fluff that most religions claim maybe some will claim their god is a real alien that travels in a flying saucer and had visited them regularly, now wouldn’t that be far more creditable tale 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. James Bargeron June 12, 2021 — 2:20 pm

    I was raised going to church and “Sunday school” and it never did click with me that it was real, more like superman in the comic books. Church was a fun place to meet friends but I will not prostitute myself into pretending to believe the fairy tales any more. There is a fine line between superstition and religion that most people do not acknowledge.
    To elaborate on your theme of many religions, The christian religion has many denominations within itself- there is catholicism and dozens of different protestant churches. There are different branches within denominations as well. One god, many interpretations.
    I do not see joy in the misfortune of others, but I saw some irony last year when an area church burned because it was struck by lightning.
    Thank you for your insights!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, James. Yeah, the predictions of religious leaders, such as safety or health, seem to not bear out ever.

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  3. I can’t speak for “other” religions, but I do know that none of the points you mentioned make an iota of difference to a True Christian™ because, for them, it’s all in the feeelings. They may be led into the religion via “the book” and/or other external sources, but once they’re there, it’s all based on emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thats exactly what I’m asking them. How are their feelings any more a measure of reality than someone else with different feelings?

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      1. From my experiences, they don’t understand your question because their god/religion/belief is “different” from all the others so your questions are moot.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I believe you are saying what I have always thought. If explaining to theists of a strong indoctrinated belief in their god that many other religions are similar but with a different god and worshippers who are as dedicated as they are, these theists will not absorb the question as it is intended and interpret it as an affront or insult to their knowledge and wise decisions regarding their religion of choice, plus they have a mind washed contempt and deep repugnance to the other religions. They may see the question a bit like an uneducated no-hoper asking a mathematical fanatic if they know how to add numbers to get a total. Indoctrination is very dangerous mind control.

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  4. These are some of the questions that many religious people are pressured not to think about. The indoctrinated pre-programmed response to perfectly reasonable questions like this can range from “LaLaLa I can’t hear you” to “You have obviously been deceived by SATAN!!!” For people who are raised in a religion, but are willing to think seriously about questions like this, well, there are more and more of us de-converts every day.

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  5. Hello again. No, I don’t understand ‘why’ you are an atheist. You have written a straw-man open letter to a caricature community you’ve imagined in your head (only you know why)!

    You write: “how are you able to determine that you aren’t misinterpreting your own senses?” Provide a credible way to determine this or answer the question yourself: How are YOU able to determine you aren’t misinterpreting your own senses? After all, you’ve committed a chunk of your life writing about this stuff, and I’ll be honest (a virtue you prize), but you’ve not offered one credible way to measure criteria, or shown a sufficicent understanding of the vast philosophical and theological tradition.

    You write as though stuck in Paul Ricoer’s First Naiveté – I don’t mean to demean your position, but you have not offered anything that can challenge an actual Christian intellectual. You’re going after the wayward, irrelevant small fry fundamentalists. A lot of your commentors do the same.

    Have you read Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Kierkegaard, Forsyth, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Thiselton, Lewis, Williams, Bentley-Hart, Lane-Craig, etc, etc, etc,? These guys do not match the manner of description you are persuing about Christian faith, history, philosophy or theology.

    I wonder if, like me sometimes on a Sunday, you are preaching to the choir (that was intended to be a joke)! You need to show everyone that your interlocutors extend beyond the New Atheism framework of Sam Harris.

    (For all my words I am genuinely interested in dialogue – I hope you will see that’s the case).

    Cheers.

    Ps I was anonymous on my blog for a couple of years, but I wrote about why anonymity was a not a desirable position for me to hold. I wonder why you are anonymous, when atheism is so celebrated and taken for granted in our day. I’d be interested to know the truth of your rationale.

    I write like this because I am a convert to Christian faith as an adult, from atheism. Like C. S. Lewis, I was the most reluctant convert in all England.

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    1. Gralefrit, you offered me absolutely nothing. Yes, I’ve read some “Christian intellectuals”. Have I read them all? No. If any of them had anything new or original to say, I would suspect you would direct me to them.

      So please, why is your religion true?

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      1. Oh no. I am so sorry for offering “absolutley nothing”. I feel embarrassed by that.
        Which “intellectuals” have you read, and what do you mean by “new” and “original”?
        Why is “my religion” true? Do you want a one word answer? A Sentence? A book? Or two thousand years of writings? Will any “thing” I say convince you (or is your mind closed)? Is it scientific evidence? Philosophical rationale? Theological conviction? Experiencial knowing? Intellectual argumentation?
        Do you understand the difference between the infra and supra-rational nature of faith? My own answer to your question really depends on where you’re coming from, and what your known biases are. In other words, have you been wounded by churchy people and churchy life and allowed that to affect how you understand and engage with actual Christianity?
        You replied to a comment about “feelings”: “Thats exactly what I’m asking them. How are their feelings any more a measure of reality than someone else with different feelings?” I share your objection to “feelings based Christianity” but you well know, I’m sure, that Christianity is not mere feelings right? If Christianity is mere feelings, then I say, and I’m sure you’d agree: To hell with Christianity!
        But I’m sure you know as well as I do that’s not the case. If you tihink it is, as an “exact” question you’re asking, then you do not understand biblical Christianity, thus rendering all your objections irrelevant and supercillious. That’s why my question about who you have read throughout the 2000 year history of great thinkers is important.
        The obvious contradiction to the feelings argument is: So what? How are their/my/your feelings any more a measure…” That’s a point that works against you, don’t you see? On this basis, we’re simply in a circular argument. If we’re just here arguing about feelings, then why your blog? Why my blog? Why our discussion? Your feelings on the matter are obvious – but by your own rationale, they are only feelings. I could say So What? to your feelings as you have rightly said to a feelings based Christianity?
        You can’t have it both ways. Your feelings are as valid as mine, but your assertion seems to suggest that the feelings of Christians are not as valid. That’s a very subjective, postmodern route to take – a route you criticize Christians for taking – but I’m sure you know that this is a contradiction right? What they call a logical fallacy. You do know that don’t you?
        Let me know where you are on the landscape of that canvas, and I’ll be better placed to answer your question.
        I could legitimatey ask you why is your atheism true. You know as well as I do that any one sentence or two answer is not going to cut it. As a wise man once said,
        “If it could be demonstrated that God does not exist, I would, of course, become an atheist.
        And if it could be demonstrated that God does exist, I would, of course, become an atheist.”
        So I suggest you stop with the simplistic questions. I’m assuming you know the debate isn’t settled, therefore I’d appreciate you answering my points and questions also.
        And you didn’t even say my joke was funny!
        So please, why is your religion true?

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      2. I want to know what convinced you.

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      3. I could legitimatey ask you why is your atheism true.

        It’s not a matter of whether atheism is “true” or not. By definition, it’s simply a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. OK happy to elaborate what convinced me.

    I grew up in a secular family, no hint of church, God or faith and all that. In my teens I considered myself an atheist. At the age of 21 I had an experience that I could not deny. It meant I was faced with two options: I could deny it and carry on in materialistic atheism, or I could seek to discover the best explanation for it. I chose the latter because truth matters to me as it does to you.

    My discoveries through meeting people, asking loads of questions and drawing conclusions was that the experience I had was consistent with what I now know is the God of the Bible following the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    So that was the experience I couldn’t deny.
    After this, I wanted to disprove the existence of God, put the experience down to an emotion or something of that sort, so set out in various readings to find the flaws or the evidence(s) that would convince me it was all an unwelcome dream.

    This episode ended up satisfying my intellectual curiosity so rather than me disprove, I was in fact proving that what I was reading was consistent with the claims of many millions of people down the ages. My intellectual curiosity grew from there and today I remain as convinced as ever that the cultural, historical, doctrinal, philosophical and evidential underpinnings of the doctrinal claims of the Bible and the witness of the Church is the most satisfying, sophisticated, coherent metaphysical explanation of everything going.

    I discovered that my reason or my mind were not suspended in this process. They were enlarged, in the sense that biblical faith is not sub-rational – not something at the level of superstition or naievte, but through and beyond reason – supra-rational – it goes through and out the other side (that’s what the bible means by faith). If you’ve studied philosophy you’ll likely know the terms.

    So I read the Bible on its own terms. I learnt the tools of interpretation, read differing traditions, and am integrating them into the rich tapestry of Christian faith. Applying the same research method and historical criteria to the Bible as any other event or person in history, we find don’t see a lack but an over whelming amount of resources: check out the Bibliographical Test if you don’t believe me. And my life has changed, and I know many, many people whose lives have changed and some very dramatically, others quite ordinary. But the change is what it is.

    I think that’s why some of your more alarming comments don’t resonate in the sense that, for your claim that Christianity is false, so everyone in on it is not telling the truth (that’s a summary of what I’ve read here). But because I know that’s not true, it calls into question your own hermeneutic, or as the sociologists say, your plausibility structures. Charles Taylor’s magnificent book ‘A Secular Age’ explains all this and unpacks his own phrase ‘The Buffered Self’ which you’d find interesting (though it’s a demanding read). Of course you might believe that what you write is true and always truthful, but the caricature you paint is simply not the case. So I really don’t mind if one person is an atheist and the other not, but the one has got to get the details right when he writes about the other.

    I think that’s enough from me, but in the nature of goodwill, I’d appecriate you reciprocating your story as to why you are an atheist (BTW – I won’t respond for a few days because it’s my wedding anniversary and my wife and I are going helicopter flying)!

    And my joke was funny right?

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    1. What was your experience? You skipped that part. It’s sort of the important bit.

      The joke gets less funny the more you ask about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Mr Spartan,

    **SIGH**

    I think I’ve offered enough for now so before I yield details of my experience (which your open-mind has already pre-determined will be outlandish subjective nonsense – be honest, you have); and sinceI have received rather skimpy replies from you since I took up the “challenge” of your “open letter” and you haven’t given me anything back in terms of my responses apart from demeaning and insufficient put downs that sound like a bully barking out orders, including a terse reply about my joke, which is the worst of all! (my joke was funny)!!!

    Therefore, to proceed in a mature manner, I need to know the landscape of your belief structures that Theism is nonsense or that atheism is true (or whatever term you wish to choose).

    Therefore I would like you to put more effort in. You said in an earlier thread that you’d read “some” of the serious Christian thinkers. I don’t think you have, so I’m calling you out on it. If you have read them I will apologise immediately; but go ahead and let me know at what level your are currently operating.

    Don’t forget: you wrote the open letter, so you invited the response. I’ve responded with very many words, but it never seems to be enough or even quite right. So answer my simple question about the intellectual reading you have(n’t) done and we’ll get on like a house on fire.

    I’m not your enemy Mr Spartan, I’m being friendly (if a little playful), or are you so closed-minded your worldview can’t include people like me? (when I say “people like me” I don’t mean like the cartoon people in your mumbling and incoherent rant, I mean letter – they are your imaginaries). Although, I will conceed, at the level of church, there might be one or two like that, but surely you don’t think THEY represent the Christianity you so despise?

    PS Thanks for asking: I shared with you about my anniversary and helicopter ride with my wife. Anyway, we had a lovely time. I would send a postcard, but you’ve been very coy.

    Don’t forget to tell me about them books. Don’t be shy……

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    1. Gralefrit, it’s very simple. I’m asking you completely honestly why you believe in your religion. Give me a reason to point to your religion specifically and find it different enough to believe it.

      That’s all.

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      1. That’s a shame you didn’t answer my question, especially as I was super-clear and so very polite. I really hoped you would be keen to tell me what level of intellectual reading you have actually done, so that I could use words and categories I know you’d understand. Alas, you’re stalling and hiding. I called you out and it seems I was right to do so.

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      2. Gralefrit, I have a Masters degree. I’m sure your words will be understood.

        What was your experience? Why should I believe your religion is real?

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      3. Answer my question then.

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      4. Gralefrit, you are being a troll. I asked religious people to tell me why their religions stand out from other mythologies. You have said a lot of stuff but haven’t said anything at all about the truth of your claim. So either just tell me why your religion is real, or go away.

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      5. I think that guy is making a huge issue out of a simple question to try an intimidate you. Theists who want to get down into the nitty gritty of theology and show off their indoctrinated knowledge cannot understand it is a wasteful exercise when everything they say is based on fantasy….unless of course,,,,but we all know that will never happen.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. In Christianity, God takes credit as the Source. Jesus said, “God is a Spirit.” His Spirit merges with the human spirit, ‘the gift of God.’ I’ve been overshadowed.

    I think it ridiculous to propose “god for a day,” a “Monday-morning quarterback” god, because life is here and now. Be honest, and go with what you’ve got.

    So is there something that stands out about my religion? I suppose not to you, because my religion comes from inside me. Question is, ‘Who (or what) is the Source?’

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    1. Good question, Arnold. Billions of people all over the world feel something that they attribute to their god. In every case, it seems, it is literally a product of their own brain. It is something we can study.

      So if you ask me, the answer is quite simple. Your god is manifested in your brain in the exact same way it used to manifest Santa Claus when you believed in him. That is the source. Your own brain tricking you.

      Why should I believe anything else?

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  9. I think we’ve gone over that before. You shouldn’t, if your brain says “No.” Whereas I think the brain is run by the spirit, not the other way around.

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    1. This belies everything we know about the brain. We can see a brain damaged or even just stimulated in specific areas doing very specific things. Damage one part, you can’t see colors. Another part, you can see perfectly well but can’t recognize faces. Another part, your speech is impaired.

      Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you can do everything from making your legs move to curing depression.

      Since literally everything you do, say, believe, and your entire personality is associated with specific parts of the brain, why do you feel the need to inject the additional, unnecessary mechanism of “spirit”, which has never been determined to be a real thing, let alone have any properties?

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      1. I may be wrong. The bible reads, ‘believing with the heart.’ To me that’s the spirit.

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      2. “Believing with the heart” is a poetic statement, not one of fact or science or even reality. The heart pumps blood, it has nothing to do with your ability to think.

        Poetic is fine for conveying emotion, but we are trying to get to the bottom of something in reality.

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  10. We ARE at the bottom, the foundation. Were created in God’s image and that’s “spirit.” The bible term is sometimes “heart, meaning the center of our being. What makes us us.

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    1. No, now you are just saying crap that doesn’t make sense again. Your religion is like all the others, all talk and no substance. No reality. I suppose I appreciate you trying, but it is just underwhelming how your religion blends right in with other religions, superstitions, and irrational beliefs. Do come back if anything real happens though, ok?

      Liked by 1 person

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