I took a class in comparative religions once. The teacher was a buddhist, though he claimed not to want anyone to know it. He also claimed to be open-minded. I’m not sure if either claim was genuine, though his closed-mindedness made him a lot of fun in class. (Possibly the subject for a later blog.)

One day early in the class he asked us all if we knew what Ragnarok was. I answered that it was the end of days when Thor kills the Midgard serpent Jormungand and his venom drowns the world. The instructor lit up like a Christmas tree. “You know Teutonic mythology? That’s amazing! How did you learn?”

Marvel Comics Thor fights Jormungand

“I read.” Was my lukewarm reply. I decided that I didn’t want to finish the sentence with, “… Thor comics and Dieties and Demigods.” (For the uninitiated, Dieties and Demigods was the Dungeons and Dragons book that detailed ((in game terms)) the gods from numerous ancient mythologies for inclusion in your game.) Looking back, this may have been when I started taking my first real steps away from religion… though I imagine I had been foundering for awhile at this point. See, playing D&D, I had a big appreciation for fantasy. Now contrary to popular belief, exercising that fantasy did not in fact lead me to an inability to tell orcs from mailboxes. Quite the opposite. I began becoming more sensitive to the things around me which were fantasy… more able to tell the difference between fact and fiction. The realization that so much of our lives contain these fantasy elements was fascinating to me, and I began working to ferret them out.  It was fun.

Racism  and misogyny are both rooted in the fantasy that one set of people is inherently superior to another. The idea that more guns will lead to fewer shootings, the belief that Americans are better than anyone else, that Republicans and Democrats are in any way different from each other… all fantasies.

Many times the truths were surprising to me. Milk is not good for you. We do not live in a free society. Love is not all you need. Your parents aren’t any smarter than you are. But the thing is, once you get started seeing the world for what it is instead of what we commonly agree it should be, it’s kinda hard to stop. And when you look at religion… you realize there’s no difference between it and any other fantasy. (The milk think was a big deal to me. This was when I first realized that all the things I was taught growing up might not be true. It was kinda earth-shattering.)

Why do we believe in religion at all? I believed because I was told it was true as a child by people I loved and trusted. As a child, I hadn’t developed any real critical thinking abilities, and simply accepted what I was given. I believed. As I grew, it was easy to continue to believe, because everyone else around me did too. It wasn’t until I started really delving into the nature of fantasy that I began to realize how little religion differed from any other type of made up belief system — and I slowly began to extricate myself from it.

I have been asked many (many) times what it is I have against god. The answer is nothing. God isn’t real, so I can’t really have anything against him. What comes across as having a problem with god is really the destructive nature of the fantasy surrounding him. If church were more like a bunch of people getting together for a big D&D session, all would be well and good. But it isn’t. People act like it’s real, and others get hurt because of it. (A tip here, any time that a person’s reactions do not match up with reality, there is a huge chance someone is going to get hurt.)

My family was always worried that D&D would lead me away from god. Of course they thought I would become a devil worshipper or suddenly start running around chopping people’s heads off in the grocery store with a broadsword. Honestly, I think they were more upset about me refusing to drink milk.

33 Responses to 399

  1. I’m curious, how can you know God doesn’t exist? Since he isn’t – allegedly – part of the universe he can by defintion only be discovered by faith, not by science, and therefore science can’t prove he doesn’t exist?

    Being raised in one of the most agnostic nations on the planet, i wasn’t taught to believe as a kid – thank God – and so i feel very priviligied to view these matters without an opinion beforehand, and when i looked into it as an adult, i was sursprised to find that God did exist – for real, i mean, not just like an idea. (And yes, I’m deep into fantasy novels and CRPG and MMORPG and stuff – but i know that God isn’t a fantasy like Elminster is *grin*.)

    (Also, i believe Fantasy is one of the most important things to read, simply because by putting people into a fictionary context, you can more clearly view thier actions and intentions from an ethical perspective than if it was fiction in the real world, and perhaps get insights on how you can behave better against other people.)

    (In other words, heroes inspire, and it’s hard to find heroes in the history of mankind, when you look closer at them i mean. That is why some of the oldest fiction literature, such as Gilgamesh, Illiad and Beowulf, are what we today would call heroic fantasy.)

    Thanks for a great comic, but i feel sad for the poor GM. Why does he even put up with those guys? 😀

  2. Faith is belief, not knowledge. So, you believe that god exists, you don’t know it (Unless maybe you’ve seen him “in the flesh”)

    Note also that it is equally hard to prove that greek, or indian, or else gods don’t exist.
    You believe, and that’s fine for you. But that doesn’t make your beliefs truer than those of any other religious (or non-religious) guy.

    Oh, and if he exists? Fine. But that gives him no more moral ground for me than any other parent. And sometimes, it’s time to grow up

  3. @Leif: I would call faith in something that all available evidence points away from delusion. Therefore, something that can only be discovered through faith is by definition fictional. (Not trying to be mean, that’s just the way I see it.)

    I love that you side with the DM. In my view, he’s the worst of the lot, and I’m always trying to answer the question in my head of “Why do these guys keep playing with this loser?” Of course the answer I keep coming up with is that they’d all louse it up even worse than he does — so you may have a point! 😀

    @Vincent: Not only the other religions, (of which Christianity is merely one of thousands) but also deliberately fictional religious creations, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn. (Who’s power is so great that it can be both invisible AND pink at the same time!) These notions fill the exact same billing as “god,” in that they cannot be detected in any fashion, they did all their real business well before any living memory, and the only way to interact with them is by faith against the actual evidence presented by the real world. You can add fairies, the Loch Ness Monster, and John Edward to that list as well.

  4. An interesting point actually. Science cannot prove that God doest not exist (since God has the good fortune of being without any discernable, measureable qualities). In the same way, faith cannot prove that God does exist (since faith by its very nature lacks the ability to prove anything).

    A fun read I’d suggest both parties of the debate is the thesis of the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Its an old university paper that creates a “diety” with the same types of qualities the biblical God has. It then asks the question of whether or not the lack of evidence against the Invisible Pink Unicorn, can logically be viewed as proof of its existance?

    Its grown into something of a symbol among young atheists, and is IMHO, right up there with the Teodice-problem.

    Blessed be Her Holy Hooves! 🙂

  5. An interesting debate. I grew up Baptist, just to get that out there. I still consider myself Baptist, but I don’t attend church regularly.

    I think that everyone has their own individual sense of God…..whether they call that entity God or something else. For the atheist, maybe a better term would be Moral Compass. Not necessarily something they worship, but something that guides them in the actions they take. This is bigger than just a conscience which I see as an internal influence; God is an external influence.

    It all started when man looked for understanding of the world around them. There was the understood and the unknown. The unknown was personified (whether that was Jupiter or Odin or God or whoever). Religion began. In the modern age, the collective knowledge that is the understood has continued to grow. The unknown is still there, but it is not what was included in the personification of the unknown, so that society today has grown away from God.

    The failing is that while God began as a personification of the unknown, religion turned into an outward manifestation of societal beliefs in what was right and wrong morally (the Ten Commandments as an example) but as society turns away from religion, they turn away from those morals.

  6. Psh, as a Wisconsinite I take offense to the claim that milk isn’t good for you…who cares? It’s the perfect compliment to a chocolate chip cookie. But yeah couldn’t agree more with every other point you made…except the milk one. You just had to ruin the revelation (not really 😀 and I do love the comic, keep it up!)

  7. In reply to Layne: I think we can all agree not to kill eachother or take each others stuff – commandments or not. The other commandments are a bit more society-specific, and might not apply in all societies today.

  8. I take that you don’t believe in air, gravity, or the fundamentals of mathematical equations either, Kev.

    Fantasy or not, I always like to believe there is a God. Or rather, to trust; it’s easy to (dis)believe in God, but a bit hard to trust. Part of the reason I like to believe in Him lies in a concept I’ve tried to ponder around. Some time ago, while taking Calculus classes, I was learning about theorems. Theorems, as you may (not) know, tend to prove or simplify math problems, but they are already established. While you can prove the squared root results pretty fairly, and usually you do get an explanation for mathematical concepts, theorems are apparently very hard to prove unless you have massive knowledge in Math, hence you must “believe them by faith”. Math tends to be very exacting on the proof they use (and then again, they use mathematical induction, which at first sight seems to be also a “belief by faith” proof), but having theorems that you must simply believe and apply? Also, when you got problems that always say “assume you have…”, why can’t you question those assumptions?

    Applied to the general scientific concepts, there are things that can’t be debated. Air, for example; that you can *touch*, but it took several centuries to discover air is an effect of atmospheric pressure changes, which tends to explain tornadoes and storms and hurricanes. Then there’s gravity: aside from the idea that you can see things fall, you can’t see gravity itself. You rather see the effect of gravity around an object, and tend to believe a series of concepts based on that simple explanation given to explain that phenomena.

    So, I know most atheists or skeptics won’t change their minds if I ponder this around, but it’s to me a very satisfactory explanation. You can’t measure God because He has no quantifiable method of measuring; how about measuring the effects normally attributed to Him? The whole concept you have to study, in order to assume a valid point, is whether the concept of a miracle must be attributed to God/Allah/Yahweh/FlyingSpaghettiMonster/etc., or whether miracles are actually happy coincidences that tend to happen now and then, just like the slim chance of the Big Bang. Or whether miracles can actually be analyzed through scientific means, since you really can’t defeat the concept of God through philosophy.

    There’s something that I do agree with most people, though: being a religious person does not automatically imply you’re a moral person, nor viceversa. I’m not entirely convinced with the concept that moral outside of religion isn’t moral, that it’s corrupted or something. I’m also not convinced entirely that the actions of a faithless man are null and void without faith. I’ve seen good people that don’t believe in any religion, and I’ve seen supposedly religious people following a twisted sense of moral, wherein by merely assisting to church and donating to church and praying they can justify their gossip, or their prejudice upon people. Moral and ethics are independent of religious beliefs, since religious beliefs taken to the extreme are truly dangerous perversions of moral.

    So, while I do like to believe that I trust in God, I also like to believe I’m a moderate guy. I also like to believe I’m the cool and nice version of Lawful Good. And I also believe that all that hogwash about “positive energy” is crap and that negative energy is merely being given bad rep. Yet I like Paladins. Odd contradictions, huh?

  9. One example I always like to bring up:
    Christians tell children that there is a white-haired man at the top of the world looking down who will bring presents to good little girls and boys and punish (i.e. lump of coal) the bad ones. If not punish, at least you won’t get the presents.
    They then tell adults (and children actually) that there is a white-haired man (at least in most artistic descriptions) at the top of the world (universe) who watches over people and rewards (heaven) the good ones and punishes (hell) the bad ones.
    Children eventually grow up and learn the first one is a fantasy, but what about the second one?

    Another point often put forward is an example like: “I’ve never seen God, but I know it exists – just like Australia, I’ve never been there, but I know it exists”. The difference here is ANYONE who sails straight from Indonesia to Antarctica will bump into Australia – every time – no faith required. Same for air/gravity/math – it’s been done and checked and proven many times over. I don’t need to take it on “faith”. Hindus, Christians and Muslims will all give you a different answer on “faith”, but every one of them will bump into Australia.


  10. @Megan: The chocolate chip cookie defense is ALMOST a game-ender, but then I remembered that I like Silk better. 😉

    @Oscar: I can measure both air and gravity, and I always hated math. The problem I would point to in your argument would be that it presupposes the existence of miracles. I do not. If there’s a one-in-a-million chance of a particular type of cancer going into remission, then one guy out a million will live to report a “miracle,” and the rest will be dead. I think it’s telling that god never provides miracle cures for amputees.

    It will be the subject of a separate blog about the notion of the inextricability of religion and morality, though I bet you can guess my stance. BTW, I too consider myself a basically good person, (as did most genocidal conqueror types) and when I role-play, my favorite kind of character to play is the truly heroic person, who does good for no better reason than it IS good.

    @Kroneg: Again, I can measure Australia. Just watch 48 hours of TV, and count the number of funny talking English speakers. Divide by the number of times you heard someone call a pecan a “pee-kan,” and you will have the number of Crocodile Dundee hats in any given pub in Melbourne on a Saturday night… thus proving the existence of Australia. (Or you could… you know… just go there.)

  11. I was gobsmacked at the milk thing too when I found out. I presume we’re talking about the same milk thing, that adult human beings are supposed to be lactose intolerant and all us Caucasian cow-suckers are genetic freaks and deviants…

  12. Lack of proof (or even evidence) of the existence of something does not demonstrate it does not exist, merely that its “existence” has not been proven (demonstrated).

    • Sure Gary, but just imagine the number of things you cannot prove don’t exist. (Don’t really. It’s infinite, you’d just hurt your head.) I can come up with old dumbass thing just as ridiculous as god and say it must be because my inability to prove it is don’t mean it ain’t. But why would I bother? I have the real world to make me feel good.

  13. Yet milk is a handy source of calcium, which is important, since we build up stores of it when younger, and when we’re old, we cease to absorb it as well (short of pills) and begin draining from that old store. Lies-to-children, as PTerry would say.

  14. Milk: Too much protein in your diet causes you to flush calcium out of your bones. Milk = Liquid meat. Hmmmm.

    @Noodlebug: Yes. We are talking about the same things.

    In addition, the normal stuff is FULL of antibiotics and BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone). They want to make those cows produce milk like crazy, so they give them the BGH. It’s like crack for cows. Works great, but the cows get sick and have lots of nasty pussy sores. So, they give them LOTS of antibiotics. So, now you get milk with lots of BGH, antibiotics, AND puss. YUM-ME!

    Next time you get a round of antibiotics that aren’t working for you or your child, ask yourself if you’ve been eating lots of normal meat and dairy. (My understanding is that BGH is illegal in Europe. Two points for Europe). All those things in your system makes you kinda immune to them.

    Did you know in the U.S. we have a milk surplus? Farmers get paid by the government for milk production. It ends up going down the drain. Literally. Just a thought. I don’t know why we can’t let up on the BGH to increase milk production. Oh wait. Money.

    And then I could go on an on about pasteurization. Did you know when you pasteurize stuff it kills all the germs but ALSO all the good stuff? If you feed kittens nothing but pasteurized milk they will be dead in 6 weeks.

    And, finally, calcium. You get WAY more calcium from leafy greens than you do from milk. One, because milk doesn’t naturally have that much calcium in it. And two, it’s calcium from calcium carbonate (ground sea shells) and your body doesn’t absorb it very well.

    Colds: Milk produces mucus. If you don’t eat dairy, when you DO get a cold, it will go away MUCH faster as it doesn’t have anything to hang on to. If you have allergies, milk is WAY bad for you. Try not drinking it for one week and see how much better you feel. “Whey” is also dairy. Read your labels.

    So, please people, do yourself a favor and at least drink the organic kind or get it from a source you trust… and eat your veggies! As for me, I love soy milk. It’s what milk should taste like for me now.

    Once I learned the truth about milk it upsets your entire apple cart. If milk is bad for you, what else is? You can never go back. It’s like your grandmother putting mecurichrome on your boo boos. She was trying to kill you! LOL.

  15. So what’s your issue with milk?

    The god stuff makes perfectly good sense to me, as does the exposure to fantasy helping one to distinguish fact from fiction, but milk is just another food, as far as I’m aware, and one with a bunch of handy things in it.

    I’m not saying it’s necessary, nor that it’s good for everyone (not everyone has the right mutation to be able to digest the stuff as an adult), but you seem to be implying that you think it’s bad for everyone.

  16. I am a pure atheist with a strong opinion against religion in general (if you desire to lose your faith, ask me and it will soon trouble you no more).

    That being said the only thing I don’t have a definite answer to is “What violated the second law of Newton and kicked everything in motion for the very first time?” which could be replaced by the recursive “so, what was before that”?

    I’ll tell you when I find out 😉

  17. @M Smith: Check out Lena’s reply just above yours for the facts on milk. It ain’t good for nobody.

    @Rick: I followed your link and looked at those books. They look REALLY cool. I’m gonna see if I can find them. (They weren’t at the city library.)

  18. Wow. Lots of good points and arguments for and against……
    I personally love the responses religion topics cause.
    My only point would be….
    If you believe in God (or insert your diety here) and you cause no harm to others.
    Isn’t it better to believe and be disapointed when you die,
    or to not believe and suffer a eternal hellish existance for not believing??

    I believe in God. I got nothing to lose.

    • Hey, if you’re causing no harm to others, it doesn’t matter what you believe in. The history of religion however, is conspicuously rife with examples of harm to others. And that continues to this day.

  19. @LeeScud: But there are 1000s of religions that all claim theirs is the only one. How lucky do you feel you picked right? The odds aren’t in your favor. LOL. 😉

  20. Also @ LeeScud: (And please keep in mind, I’m not trying to blast you in any way here, so if this comes out sounding directed at you, forgive me. It’s not.) Any deity who would sentence someone to an eternity of torment (eternity, by definition, being permanent), is unworthy of worship. Especially if said deity would doom a person simply for choosing not to believe in something for which it refuses to allow objective evidence to be given. (As it happens, I -am- moderately religious, nominally Jewish… In case anyone wondered.) I have no issue with the concept of God or gods – in point of fact, I find the concept of a higher power occasionally comforting – but the part of religion I do have a problem with is the concept thar has arisen (relatively recently, historically speaking, I believe, although I may be mistaken) of eternal punishment. Even in the medieval forms of Christianity, Hell wasn’t eternal. It was “eternal or until you finally honestly repent, whichever comes first”. If a punishment lasts forever, how can you learn from it? That’s not a valid punishment, it’s torture for the sake of torture, the mean kid with a magnifying glass and an anthill. For a punishment to make sense, -especially- from what claims to be a loving and merciful being, it has to be able to be ended once it’s served its purpose…

  21. Beautifully put, Misha!

    I would add that believing in god as a sort of safeguard in case he decides to whack you isn’t really the kind of faith and love for him god is supposedly asking for. I’m thinking that should there prove to be a hell, that might not be enough to keep you out of it.

    Personally I find the notion of religious faith repugnant, but that will be another blog of it’s own. The best thing about religion is that it is a never-ending font of topics. There’s ALWAYS something stupid to laugh at.

  22. “Isn’t it better to believe and be disapointed when you die,
    or to not believe and suffer a eternal hellish existance for not believing?? ”

    Any god acting like this deserves only one thing. Rebellion.

    By the way, how can any “good” religious person (going to heaven, thus) live peacefully knowing that “good” non-religious persons suffer in hell just because they don’t believe? In fact, how can any “good” person live peacefully knowing another sentient, “good” or “evil” is suffering an eternity of torture?

    This is the kind of things which, as a kid, first drove me away from religion.

  23. Hey, did we just work out the “real” reason for the fall of Lucifer? 🙂
    (Actually, I have my own theory on that, it involves God being more of a curious scientist poking at his lab rats…)

  24. Replying to Draad January 12, 2009 at 10:57 pm
    That being said the only thing I don’t have a definite answer to is “What violated the second law of Newton and kicked everything in motion for the very first time?” which could be replaced by the recursive “so, what was before that”?

    I’ll tell you when I find out
    End of quote

    You can turn that around and say “What created/started God?” Personally I was raised Christian, I would describe myself now as a spiritual person although I do not believe in “God”. As soon as I got old enough that I started to think for myself, I found that it seemed to make more sence to think that the Universe always existed. Nothing created it or started it. Adding God into the equation makes for an extra unnecissary step that is unprovable. I don’t understand people who go “the universe could not have existed without a creater. How did the creater get there? If one person can answer that question in a way that makes sence I may give “God” another look, Until then he is on the shelf with Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunney.

    • Well god is magic, ain’t he? God could have retroactively told himself to exist, and he would have popped into the universe ten minutes earlier. That seems WAAAAY more likely than any extrapolations made from scientifically derived data.

  25. Can you now name for me something that ISN’T fantasy?

    Everything is a fantasy, some are just more strongly believed than others, and apply to different levels of consciousness. Without fantasy everything is by definition robotic and predetermined, and if this is so then there is no reason to acknowledge it, as doing so changes nothing

    • I feel pretty certain that I am neither a fantasy nor predetermined. I also feel this way about everyone I know. (Though we all certainly follow patterns, we maintain the ability not to.) I think maybe I am not properly taking your meaning.