Bob Seidensticker, the Reasonable Doubter
Bob Seidensticker was never a man of strong faith—he calls his Presbyterian upbringing “Christianity lite”—but it took an email exchange with a creationist relative to make him turn his back on God. How, he thought, could any educated person believe in an all-powerful entity without any proof? For years now that lack of evidence has fueled his writing on the subject of Christian apologetics, via both his blog and his 2011 book, Cross Examined, a fictional account of a young pastor questioning his faith. Seidensticker’s approach is measured and logical—he is, after all, a retired Microsoft software developer—and never emotional. For him, the debate about religion, Christian or otherwise, is a matter of fact versus fiction
I want to convert people, but that’s not my primary goal. My real goal is to make people think: “Mr. Christian, let’s make sure you’re evaluating this thoroughly.” Now he could say, “Look, I don’t have any good reasons for believing. I just believe on faith.” That’s fine. But if you want to jump into the ring of intellectual debate and offer your intellectual reasons for believing, I’ll be happy to critique them.
What drives me is the harm that I see Christianity doing within American society today. If it was simply like knitting, fine—what you do in your own home is no problem. It’s when you want to get creationism into public schools that I have a problem. It’s when you justify prayer at a city council meeting or when the President is obliged to have a day of prayer. It’s when you use the Bible to justify the banning of same-sex marriage. Some of these things are small, but some are pretty important.
Christians say, “You’ve got to pray. You have to give God a chance.” And I’m thinking, Give God a chance? He could just appear right here. I’m giving God the chance to do that.
But even if God showed up here right now, he could be an alien. Technology exists. Life-forms exist. So having a life-form from another planet that’s a million years more advanced than us is not a hard concept to accept. The supernatural? We have no evidence of that. Now what if everyone in the entire world has the same dream about God? That’d be a starter. The point is that it can’t just be me. If I have a personal experience, then I could just be going crazy.
I haven’t read the whole Bible. And I’ve gotten heat for that, which is valid. But where Christians seem to be coming from is the idea that if you read the Bible, something magical will happen. I’ve read much of the Bible and I’ve read the parts I disagree with in context. If I just pull something out of context and lampoon it, I’ve done nothing but made a fool of myself. I really do want to understand it.
Pascal’s Wager suggests that we think of believing in God as a bet: If God exists and you bet against him, you’re really going to regret it. If you bet for him and he exists, then you’ll go to heaven. If God doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter either way. But that assumes that your only choices are Christianity and atheism. There’s Buddhism and Sikhism and Shintoism and religions we haven’t even invented yet. What about all of those? Maybe you should bet on Buddhism. It would suck if you didn’t and went to the Buddhist hell. I’ve been to the monasteries and seen the pictures. It’s not cool.
I’m not totally out to my family. My sister kind of knows. But I’m not sure my mother does. She’s Presbyterian, and the church is super important to her, more from a community standpoint than from any spiritual standpoint. So for the sake of familial harmony, it’s a topic best left untouched.
You’ve seen children’s Bibles that have the story of Abraham and Isaac or the story of Noah’s flood? I read those to my kids, just to make them aware. It’s like being aware of Shakespeare. So simply for cultural vocabulary, I found it’s important to expose them to these things. And it would be hypocritical of me to reject the indoctrination that I see from Christians and then indoctrinate my own kids in non-Christianity by not exposing them to those ideas.
Death doesn’t scare me. As you’re going, as you’re saying goodbye, that sucks. My father died about 10 years ago, and it was tough. I grieved just like a Christian would. But once you’re gone, problem solved.
If belief in an afterlife had no ramifications, that would be fine. But look at people who do believe that there’s life after death and they’re going to be in heaven for a trillion years, hanging out with God and talking philosophy. I fear that focusing on the afterlife means you don’t focus on the life you have right here and using it to do things for future generations. There’s a proverb that goes, “It’s a good society where old men plant trees under which they know they will never sit.”
Christians often say that with atheism there is no purpose. That’s bullshit. With atheism there is no absolute purpose. There is no book for God to write your name down in. You will not be recognized; no one will care about you a billion years from now. But so what? I’ve got a wife. I’ve got two kids. I can look at what I write, and in my own small way it’s a contribution to the greater good. It ain’t much, but it’s all I got. Which is fine with me.