Hemant Mehta and His Seventy-Eight Questions

Hemant MehtaHemant Mehta is known as The Friendly Atheist. And he really does seem very friendly. Look at that face! If that doesn’t say “earnest nice guy,” I don’t what does. This may sound like I’m being sarcastic, and if so, I’m sorry. It is just an indication of how much he’s charmed me.

The truth is that most atheists do come off as, well, jerks. And I say this as more or less one. (I discussed this in a recent article, Time as a Construct of Consciousness.) What bugs me the most about atheists is the degree of their certainty when their own understanding of ontology is at best childish and often simply absent. Humility is a really important aspect of being a decent human being.

Mehta really struck me in a point he made in one of his videos, Nine Things Atheists Should STOP Saying. The ninth one was, “You can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe.” This is the idea that Christians are being silly when they accept the Bible when it tells them God loves them but blow off the vile parts about slavery being just fine and the need to stone our LGBT friends.

As Mehta pointed out, this is just the opposite of what atheists should want. It is better to have liberal minded Christians than fundamentalists. But there is a deeper issue. It just doesn’t make sense to say that if you are a Christian, you must be a Biblical literalist. Who says?! There are lots of ways to rationalize buffet Christianity. But above all, most Christians think the Bible is “divinely inspired” not “the literal word of God.”

But this is the essence of what I’m talking about with the arrogance of the atheist community. Only someone who has a really primitive conception of religion would think that the Bible must be read literally. We all understand that Ken Ham is such a person. But atheists pride themselves on being rational and smart. Making straw man arguments against liberal Christians is neither rational nor smart.

None of this is to say that atheists can’t have a whole lot of fun mocking the theists of the world. This is part of being in a group. The theists do it to the atheist; the atheists do it to the theists; and I do it to both. (Because I’m better than they are!) And Mehta is really good at this as well. And he’s damned charming while doing it.

Here is his video, Seventy-Eight Questions for Christians:

For the record, the standard Christian answer to the best questions here is, “I don’t know. I am not God. But I know that God is good.” I find such answers extremely frustrating. Consider the question, “Is Anne Frank burning in hell for the rest of eternity?” If she is not, then the whole heaven thing is a bit more complicated than Christians have made it out. If she is, doesn’t that make God undeserving of worship? By refusing to engage with such questions, Christians are refusing to take their religion seriously. Of course, the very worst Christians — the literalists — would have no problem with the question. “Yes!” they would tell you. “She had her chance!” On the other side, the very best Christians — the Universalists — would also have no problem with the question. “No!” they would tell you. “Everyone goes to heaven!”

One question Hemant Mehta didn’t ask was, “If Hitler had a spiritual awakening in his bunker, is he now in heaven with God?” But that’s just because he’s too nice. “Friendly,” you might say.

2 thoughts on “Hemant Mehta and His Seventy-Eight Questions

  1. Great! He is friendly. I do believe in not imposing my godless views on any godly person, but some of them want to have these conversations and it’s quite right to be as friendly about them as possible. More importantly kids looking furtively around the Web to question their faith need friends, not screaming meanies.

    Of course when we say we’re tired of fervent believers picking and choosing their favorite holy text clippings we don’t mind them discarding the backwards ones; we mind them discarding the sane ones. Apparently the Jewish debt-forgiveness tradition of “jubilee” is passé and dated, but the Jewish proscriptions against any sex act which doesn’t create more baby Jews (not unwise, when you’re outnumbered) are God’s Sacred Word Forever. The same with right-wing preachers of any tradition; all holy texts contain both helpful and harmful passages. (Well, maybe not “Dianetics.”)

    I do find the “good without God” argument bizarre, from both sides. I don’t see how you can be good with God. If I help an old lady carry her groceries, that’s a moral action. If you point a gun at my head and say “help that lady with her groceries or I’ll shoot you” then my helping that lady isn’t moral. A rewarding/punishing divine force makes believers amoral. I suppose you can say the judging/compelling power is moral, but not adherents.

    • The problem with the “pick and choose” complaint is that it stops people on both sides. And I think it is a bigger problem with people who are trying to liberalize the religion. Most of the nice things in the Bible are open to debate. But the Bible is very clear about stoning fags. So I think we are best to allow people to make the best of the Bible as they will.

      As to your final point: that’s totally right. If you are doing something just to get a reward, it isn’t morally admirable. It may be rational, but that’s another thing. This kind of amorality goes to shocking extremes. William Lane Craig and other modern apologists define anything God does as “good.” So if God allows children to burn alive in a fire, it is good by definition. And this makes me wonder, “How do you know you aren’t worshipping Satan?” But that is modern Christianity!

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