Monday, August 5, 2013

Placebo god

There once was a man from the Carolina of North.
For advice, people would come forth.
But his advice was not good.
Which was understood.
Since he is quite blind to the truth.

***EDIT*** Thanks to blogger for somehow truncating my entry and forcing me to re-write this spur of the moment.

Yup, it's Billy Graham time again. This week a questioner asks if God really can change people. As we've come to expect, Graham offers a poor answer that ignores everything that doesn't support his false claim.
Christ can change us completely, from within

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Do you think people’s lives can be changed if they believe in God? As a psychologist, I know people can change in small ways if they try hard enough. But we all have different personalities, and I don’t think our basic personality ever really changes. — C.G.
DEAR C.G.: One of the Bible’s greatest truths is that when we come to Jesus Christ and commit our lives to him, God himself comes to live within us by his Holy Spirit. And one reason he does this is so he can begin changing us from within — not by our efforts, but by his power.

What difference will Christ make? For some people, the changes may be slow and almost imperceptible — at least at first. Others, however, may experience dramatic changes in their lives, as they turn to God and ask him to help them overcome an addiction, take away their anger, or help them forgive someone who’s hurt them. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 Whatever our personality, our lives will never be the same once we come to know Christ. I often think, for example, of the Apostle Paul in the Bible. He zealously persecuted Christians, believing them to be enemies of God. But when he met Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life was dramatically changed, and all his energy was redirected to a new cause — the cause of Christ.

No matter who we are, God welcomes us just as we are, with all of our sins and shortcomings and personal quirks. But when we repent of our sins and open our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ, he begins changing us so we become more and more like him. Why not let this happen in your life?
 Well, looks like Graham is being his presumptuous self again. The writer has questions and doubts, so he just assumes they haven't 'let Christ change their life', and asks why they don't let this happen for them. Newsflash Billy but most of us have been believers, and were very open and wanting Jesus to guide our lives. If anything, I'd say that my leaving faith is what made the biggest and most positive changes in my life. It made me a better person as well.

But does Jesus changes lives for the better? It he improving people when believers hate gays or when parents disown their own children over the trivial? When the Westboro Baptist Church protests funerals (and just about everything else), is Christ molding them into examples to aspire to. What about when priests continuously raped little boys? Were Jesus and God transforming their lives for the better? And what of the pope, who tried to cover up the abuse and protect the offenders? I suppose his faith was causing Christ to make him a better person as well?

What we can see is that being truly religions certainly isn't a recipe for a life improved. Remember that religion or not, there will be good people doing good, and evil people doing evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.

Yes there are many a story of someone claiming that Jesus has helped change their life and make them a better person. But is that proof that Christianity is true? No, not at all. For every Christian that has overcome a hard life, there is a Muslim who will claim that Allah has molded and improved their life, or a Hindu that says that Krishna has helped them overcome and addiction. So we really can't say that an improved life is a sign that a god is actually helping you along. Actually, the truth is that there is deity guiding us to be better people or lead better lives.

And that is actually one of the sad aspects of religion. It shortchanges personal accomplishments and takes all the credit. And there really is something at play when these believers claim that their god if giving them the power to improve their lives, but it's not a god. Enter, the placebo effect. These believers think they have a super special helper in their corner to help them out. This gives them a positive outlooks that really can make a dramatic difference. A positive mindset can cause you to work harder, and be more determined. Perhaps they even feel like the positive change is more likely to come since an all-powerful deity is helping them along.

But there is no one helping them. They think there is, but the placebo effect is causing them to think they have an edge. When a believer gets a promotion, beats an addiction, or finds themselves becoming a better person, they will give all the credit to God. But the fact is that God did not give them to power or ability to improve their lives and accomplish great things.

They had that power locked inside them all along. Perhaps their imagined deity gave them the confidence that gave them the kick in the ass they needed to get started. But they did it themselves, and did all that hard work on their own. It was their own determination that helped them find a better life. It was their hidden inner strength that got them past that addiction. It was their determination that got them that long desired promotion. God does not make people strong. They are strong to begin with. They just don't always see what they are actually capable of. To me religion's theft of peoples own hard earned accomplishments is a travesty in and of itself.

-Brain Hulk

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Presumptuous as always Mr. Graham. You close your reply by asking why CG doesn't let Jesus transform their life. How do you know they haven't? Are you simply assuming this because they are doubting the claims that God can change people? Newsflash Billy, but there is an alternate explanation, and that's that your claim simply doesn't hold water. Maybe you should ask me why I don't 'let Jesus change my life'. Oh, but wait, I did. Yet in my years as a believer, Jesus didn't transform my life either. In fact, you could say that my life actually improved, and that I became a better person after I actually left religion.

But what of this claim that Christ will change the lives of those that turn to God. Change like parents who disown children who don't believe? Is Jesus changing the lives of those that hate gays or resort to violence toward abortion clinics or their doctors? Were the Catholic priests that were molesting children being molded by Christ? What about the Pope himself, who sought to hide those abuses and protect the abusers? When the Westboro Baptist Church protest funerals (and just about everything else) is Christ changing them for the better? Yes, Graham may be able to reference people that attribute the positive changes in their life to Jesus or God. But you can also reference plenty who's lives have become ugly, hateful and negative from their belief in God. Remember with or without religion, you will find good people doing good, and evil people doing evil. But for a good person to do evil, that takes religion.

But what of those claims of Jesus cleaning up a persons life, helping them be a better person, or overcoming a drug addiction? Yes, many people can share stories where they can claim that Jesus has helped them to become better people. I have talked to and know such people myself. But their claims really aren't a convincing argument for Christianity. Why, what about the Buddhist that tells you that the Buddha has shaped them into a better person? What of the Muslim who tells you that Allah has shaped their life? What about a Hindu that talks of their belief profoundly improving and molding their life and them as a person? All these believers in differing faiths are making the same claims that the Christian that says Jesus cleaned up their life is making.

Obviously they can't all be correct in the idea that their respective deity really is changing them for the better. But there is a very likely, and probable explanation for all these claims. The placebo effect. What all of these people making a claim have in common are a positive outlook and belief in some sort of divine 'helper'. Many of these people may have the will and desire to change their lives, quite drugs, become the person they want to be, etc. But they may feel too weak to actually cause any real change. But then tell them that an all powerful deity is there to help them and their outlook improves. They are now more positive and are working, or working harder toward their desired goal(s). And when they succeed, they thank their god.

The sad truth is that these people really had the power and potential locked inside of them all along. A god did not help them, but the story of a god that believes in them did allow them to believe in themselves so that they could harness their true potential. The power of positive thinking in action. To me, it makes me a bit sad when there individuals give God all the credit for changes they've made in their lives. But the truth is that they did all the hard work either on their own, or with the help of friends and family. No magical help at all. They overcame their adversity thought the power of their own will and determination. Maybe a belief in God of Krishna gave them to kick in the ass that they needed, but they did it themselves. So rather than shortchanging your achievements by handing credit to a god, lets take a moment to appreciate the power of human determination and passion.

-Brain Hulk

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