Archive for May, 2013

Being an Atheist XIX: Monarchy/Tyranny, Democracy

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I suppose that it is Plato that we ought to attribute into making the first distinction between the types of government. The factor in these different types of governments really boils down to one thing—how many people make the decisions. Technically the American system of government is a combination of the three primary forms: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; with each branch of this system representing one of those forms. We have the executive branch in charge of enforcing and enacting laws being like the monarch, the judicial branch with its oversight and ability to weigh the government against the law as the aristocratic, while the legislation and formulation of the laws being with the many, the democratic form in our legislative branch of government. I want to be absolutely clear: I am not making any judgments or recommendations, this is only an observation.

The political philosopher (among many other occupations) Niccolo Machiavelli improved upon Plato’s three forms, as well as Aristotle’s analysis of them, by drawing lines between them. Claiming that the three pure forms of government as well as their three corrupted forms could be used to show the entire evolution of human civilization. For instance, Aristocracy arises when the few tire of the rule of the tyrant, the monarch who rules not for the people or for the state, but for himself. They overthrow the tyrant, establish themselves, and attempt to institute a system that will utterly prevent one ruler, one king, from ever existing. Democracy arises when the aristocrats become plutocrats ruling for themselves rather than the state. Anarchy comes about when Democracy is corrupted, Aristotle drew those lines, and Machiavelli connected all of them.

I bring this up because it is becoming apparent to me, that there exists a conflict between monarchy and democracy when religion gets tossed into the mix. Let’s take Aristotle’s definition of Democracy, that it is the rule of the many. That means that the many, get to decide the laws of society. In my country, this means that we elect representatives and then ideally they represent our collective will. It also means that there is no final arbiter; our representatives decide what gets made and what doesn’t. It only has to be legal with reference to the system already in place. Some countries, like Iran, have a representative system but anything they want must pass through what is called “the Guardian council” who can vacate a law, election, etc. if they feel it is wrong. If the president of Iran wants to wage war and the guardians don’t want him to, he can’t do it.

When religious people claim that democracy is a gift from god, they are condescending to us on god’s behalf. That infuriatingly insulting painting of Jesus handing three people who didn’t believe in him the Constitution is saying that democracy is only democracy on behalf of a king. That’s not democracy that is the Iranian system.

By what right do we need approval from a king, in this case a divine monarch, to determine our fate? In the US history, we were taught that the colonists overthrew monarchical rule and then excised all notion that rights were determined by anything but the people—why do we then need divine grace to grant us that right of self-determination? If we do need the grace then we don’t have self-determination. Ontologically it is arguing the point that I am free because someone else allows me to be free.

Our laws are determined by us, not some absolute tyrant for whom no argument can twist the opinion of. They always have been, it’s just now the people recognize that monarchy has nothing metaphysical backing it up. The history of the world long has seen the despot and the priest walking hand in hand, one claiming absolute authority while the other sanctifies it. If anyone believes they have the authority to decide another’s fate, without argument or the necessary compulsion to give such arguments—they are tyrants. Even if they grant the barest resemblance of democracy and still solely hold the keys they are still tyrants, just a little more generous than usual.

The actions of any religion are similarly like this. They make the rules for the faithful without consulting the faithful themselves are even inquiring as to their opinion even if they are prepared to ignore it. All religious authority behaves thus; after all they speak in place of a higher power. Not only do they ignore the faithful, but they also ought to include the impious, the infidel, and the atheist if they are going to put on any show that involves fooling people into thinking they respect and appreciate democracy. After all religion doesn’t make prescriptions for just the faithful but for all people at all times. Why not consult me for official positions on gay rights, or women’s rights, or regarding the eating of salted pork? I have to die as well.

It bothers me that these people will go around claiming that god supports one form of government on earth but a much more superior government exists in heaven. Not only can they claim that, but they can also claim that without irony or even acknowledging the contradiction. If you are religious you are a willing subject to a monarch I don’t see how it could be any different.

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The Road to Atheism XXI: Heaven? No!

May 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I want to say that it was Lisa Simpson who said it best (in the episode: Mr. Sparkle) that Sunday afternoons were the best because they represented the longest possible time between church. There could be no longer time period than the 6 days and 23 hours that could be spent, literally doing anything else. Unless there was a holy day. If there were we could either be lucky in that it occurred during school hours (going to a Catholic school meant being in church rather than in class) and if were unlucky it would occur on a Friday night. My family wasn’t particularly observant, Saturday church counted as Sunday even if we went before sundown—or whatever that ridiculous technicality is. If you haven’t figured it out, I wasn’t a fan of church service long before I stopped being a fan of the church, and then of religion. It was boring, repetitive, I found only the sermons to be of any relevance to my life and then only sometimes when I agreed or wasn’t being bored by a literal retelling of all the stuff we just heard. Service (which as I type the word I am mystified by why it is called that), represented a time where I could practice “zoning-out” counting events until I was finally released to that glorious time when we were let out. I could space out the entire time we were in church but still go through what some laughingly call the “Catholic-gymnastics” [stand-sit-stand-sit-kneel-stand-walk-kneel-sit-stand-leave]. Paying attention to the routine meant that I could tick off the number of things I had to do versus the number of things left to do. To be honest, I do this at weddings too which is why a good program is nice to have.

Most of the time I was half-listening waiting for something that would pique my interest which almost never came, it was infrequent but occasionally I found something worth focusing on. My ears would prick up at any discussion of the after-life, that’s the whole point of religion right? It’s all about how this life is a dress-rehearsal or proving ground depending on your religion so what happens to us when we “survive death” is kind of important, so it seemed like it should be a good time to pay attention. The only trouble though was that it was still boring, it shouldn’t have been, but it was. What troubled me was that there were, and are, no descriptions of what paradise is supposed to be like. There’s never been a shortage in descriptions of sadism for eternal punishment. Glorifying the wicked tortures that are only devised to appease an eternal tyrant’s insatiable thirst for vengeance never runs out of style. Yet when it comes to heaven, nothing. If you ask me what happens to thieves or traitors in hell, I could paraphrase Dante or talk about the existential crisis of the coming non-existence of the souls of those in limbo. I could offer whether it is possible to describe Pandemonium, the palace of Devils in Milton or the fate of the souls at the end of Revelation. I can say only that walls made of gold cannot be clear as glass, in describing heaven (Rev 21:16 but that’s not heaven that’s the New Jerusalem). What about the condition of the pious martyrs, or warriors of god, or the meek? In Dante they just kind of float around singing hymns. That sounds, boring.

Religion class, like always, was little help. Long time readers of this will know that a great deal of my atheism I owe to religion class. They didn’t have answers, I was told not to ask, and thus I inquired of my own accord finding answers in other books. Note to religion teachers: if you don’t want to produce atheists, learn to answer the most difficult questions no matter how young the person asking is. I would ask what one does in Heaven, and I was told that it was paradise. This doesn’t answer my question, but then they would clarify that one spent time with Jesus, which probably sucked for him since he had to constantly go around talking to everyone, even people that he probably didn’t want to see. One time, and I kid you not, a religion teacher told me that heaven was like being in church all the time only now, god was there. That wasn’t enticing, in fact, it was quite the opposite. At least in church I could space-out, but god was omniscient, in heaven-church I wouldn’t be able to do that. It made me feel guilty for being bored when the onus should have been on them.

For a kid, that isn’t heaven, that’s hell. Church, with god, for eternity. Listening to lessons on morality that are now rendered moot because I passed that test, bible history that’s irrelevant since we have all left the circles of the world, and sermons about religion and society which no longer matter. Heaven ought not to be anything like church, it should be fun.

Now the devout may answer that going to mass is about service to god, but service is about earning grace to get into heaven so is my stay in eternal bliss contingent on paying rent once in a while? If so, again, that’s hell.

Descriptions of heaven fall into one of two categories: boring or satirical. Dante’s vivid and beautiful descriptions of the hell and purgatory fall flat into discourses on Aristotelian physics and reason when Dante enters Heaven. That dirty Atheist, Mark Twain wrote a couple of stories about heaven which are funny, but he was doing so to poke fun at religion (one of the descriptions comes from Satan, who wonders why no one ever included sex in paradise since it’s the most powerful motivation on earth).

It’s just unimaginative, and that’s without getting into the complicated issues of heaven e.g. A woman marries one man, he dies, she marries a different one and both times everyone is in love, so who does she spend eternity with? The movie Titanic seems to think that it’s with the guy she banged in a car rather than the man she marries and has a daughter with (the movie made a billion dollars and no one realizes this important lesson from it). Perhaps heaven is beyond imagination, but that’s a cop out especially when you consider that hell ought to be its exact opposite.

Catholicism usually teaches morality as being to earn heaven and avoid hell. But since they can’t describe the reward they usually just describe the punishment and say, “you don’t want that.” The trouble is that it doesn’t give you a reason to do something but rather to avoid an outcome. Negative reinforcement is just not as effective; just ask Mitt Romney and John Kerry how it worked out for them.

My religion teachers were not prepared for this, not many people are—even the most devout. Yet this is foundational. These teachers either didn’t think about it or just didn’t want to and neither would surprise me. The more difficult question certainly rattled them, “…and then what?” As in, what happens after heaven-church is over? Was there an after service gathering where all the church ladies came together to cluck their gossip? Is there a church basement where the kids can play the most pointless game of hide and seek ever? Or is it really an unending mass? Again, what part of that doesn’t sound like hell?

Some priests I knew used to tell me that heaven was merely being with god/Jesus. This is the best answer that can be given, and I’ve yet to ask a Rabbi. The problem with that is that if the greatest reward is merely being the presence of god/Jesus then the ultimate punishment ought to be the simple denial of that audience. Rather, we get the ornate and elegant descriptions of sadistic torture. Heaven’s reward is purely metaphysical but Hell’s punishment is physical. That it’s not an equivalent system and it only represents the desire of people to see others punished and tortured.

The writers of the religious texts apparently saw that abandonment is not enough of a motivator. Perhaps they thought that mere abandonment would be too much like this world to do an effective job.

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Being and Atheist XVIII: Ecumenical Discussions and the Suspension of Disbelief

May 17, 2013 Leave a comment

What is known as “suspension of disbelief” is an idea that we normally ascribe to us when we are watching movies. We, for instance, will accept for the purposes of a story that certain things which we view as either impossible or implausible as being normal. For instance, in Avatar, we accept that humans have intergalactic travel, flawless cryogenics, and the ability to transfer the mind from one being to another—yet somehow our protagonist still rolls around in a wheel chair. We may laugh at this seeming contradiction but for most of the movie we just accept the science fiction elements without really questioning it, because we want to enjoy the story, the 3d (for those who can), and in a Cameron film—the explosions. We can only enjoy certain things if we suspend disbelief for the duration of our experience with it, only the most annoying pedant is going to go see a Lord of the Rings movie complaining that the whole thing is bullshit because there’s no such thing as hobbitses. Hold that thought for a second we are going to come back to it.

In a relatively calm face-to-face conversation I asked a person how they could believe in the stories, the mythology of their religious tradition. Having come out of the Christian-Catholic tradition myself, we shared the same background, in that once upon a time we both believed the same things. Now this person, was no literalist, they didn’t believe that god really stopped the sun from turning to Joshua could keep on slaying Amorites (Joshua 10: 12-13…even though it says at 10:11 that more people died from god’s hailstones than the swords of the Israelites so it’s really unnecessary for him to do this) for the reason that not only did it probably never happen but also that the sun is in a relatively fixed position in the sky and again proving that to hold the bible as a book of science is ridiculous. He also wasn’t the type that believed there were links between the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation as Tim Lahaye would have us believe. This person was fully aware that literal interpretation is not a test and is not the point. Pointing out weird inconsistencies between the numbers of people that Moses killed at such and such a battle, or where Job’s second wife came from. To him it didn’t matter, it was the theme of the story, the lesson involved.

This is at least a reasonable position to take. One could be like Thomas Jefferson—writer of the Declaration of Independence for the non-Americans out there—and cut out every supernatural reference in the bible in order to gauge the moral system inherent in it. It’s a terrible moral system, but it is a moral system. A lot of non-fundamentalists will make this claim. They don’t care where Cain’s future wife comes from. I know quite a few Catholics who despite Papal rulings on the subject think Mary just died the normal death instead of being carried up to heaven body and all (this was the last time a Papal decree was made from the position of being infallible), do not believe in literal transubstantiation, and practice birth control. Other religious people might think that the rock in the dome is just a meteor, that Jesus never showed up in the Western Hemisphere, etc. Such reasonableness or rationality is probably more of a threat to religious dogmatism than the existence of Atheists like me. It represents a slipping of belief that questions the metaphysical foundation of the world’s religions. After all, from the perspective of a devout follower everyone not like them is a disbelieving atheistic idolater. For the most part my partner and I could laugh at people who really think that Jonah was swallowed by a whale or those literalists that think the moon generates its own light. We have the same kind of views of the world, the supremacy of rationality and that of claims needing evidence to be supported but at the end of the day aren’t we just at a cease fire?

He is going to believe that there is something missing in my life while I know that part of him believes in something that he would not believe were it not for his religion: by this I mean that he accepts that at one point in time snakes could talk and communicate with people. For the three of the world’s major religions there exists the story of the fall, Adam and Eve, and most importantly, the eating of the apple. This story deals with the initial turning away from god by the first humans. We can talk about the fall but in order to do so we have to talk about the snake. See the garden thing is pretty easy, eat anything you want but don’t touch that tree. Pretty simple command, but then god clarifies that it’s the tree of knowledge, and knowledge is a good thing but we don’t want it for some reason. Simple divine fiat is all that makes that tree and its fruit forbidden. Nevertheless there is a tree and that tree is to be avoided.

And it is. Until the snake comes along and tells Eve the deal with the tree. It’s not poison according to him, it gives you knowledge. So Eve eats it and thus we are all struck with Original Sin because some woman listened to a talking snake 6000 years ago. A crime, it should be pointed out, that no one living for thousands of years had any part of. Every single person who died from that point went to hell, until Jesus came and died, went to hell himself to absolve them of a crime they were innocent of. That’s the whole point of Christianity right? That Jesus had to absolve the world of this original sin and that while we are not directly guilty (or we are, depending on which sect of Christianity you subscribe to) of what they refer to as Adam’s sin (and not Eve’s because she is a woman and does not matter) his transgression is an act that gives us our sinful nature. Remarkably, only one person was born without this taint and it wasn’t Jesus.

The theological issues of Original Sin are fit for a theological dissertation rather than a blog post. But the point remains that “the fall” is a foci of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition, and in order to be so we require the talking snake. Guilt, either explicit or not, cannot transfer through generations. This violates every principle of justice that exists. To blame a person for something that their grandfather did is quite ridiculous to go beyond that is to reach into the realm of insanity.

If a talking cricket told me to do something it may be understandable that I would at least want to listen, everything I know about crickets indicates that they do not talk so I might listen. Would I act on what the cricket told me to do? Perhaps or perhaps not, but no matter any action I do does not make my daughter guilty. Sure people might say, “There goes that girl whose dad listens to talking crickets.” That should however be it, her children would have no connection to their crazy grandfather—other than a visit to that special place he lives in. Their kids would be more than likely ignorant of me. Those kids in turn would have no knowledge of my existence (depending on what the cricket told me to do) and with each subsequent generation the blood gets thinner and thinner. Yet somehow we are to accept that the guilt of that crime remains unsullied. That, at best, a crazy woman who listened to a snake still gets us several millennia later.

We suspend our disbelief for stories that we know are fictional, but in this case we are told to live as though this outrageous story were not only true but that it continues to affect us. If I said that a cricket talked to me, you would be right to disbelieve it unless I said, “no just bear with me it’s a story,” and then I told a funny story about a talking cricket and our funny adventures. Of course the other time you would have to suspend your rational mind and accept that what I was saying was true is if I prefaced it with, “According to my religion there were these talking crickets that used to exist.”

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The Saints of Atheism II: Socrates of Athens

May 14, 2013 Leave a comment

We know that Socrates was a real person. We have independent verification from at least two historical sources contemporary to him that confirm this, unlike certain other figures of mythological/religious prominence this is fact. What we don’t know anything about was what Socrates said. This is where putting him in this hallowed hall of reason gets tricky. Socrates was real but his actions may not have been his words are more than likely dressed up paraphrases of things he really did say as was the Greek tradition at the time. Check out Herodotus, Thucydides for other examples of real people saying things that they probably didn’t say. So we are going to make the assumption that the character of Socrates given to us in the first two dialogues of the work of Plato are true (the later works there is a consensus that “Socrates” is a character through which Plato speaks his own view).

Anyone with the most basic knowledge of Greek Philosophy, even those who have half-paid attention in an Introduction to Philosophy Class, should know a couple of things about the historical figure. He was born in Athens in around the year 469 BCE. Originally he was a stone cutter with interests in Natural Philosophy [what we, today would call physics] he eventually performed his civic duty serving in the Athenian government and military during the Peloponnesian War (Athens v. Sparta). Now, I’m not sure what prompted the visit, but Socrates’s friend Chaerophon took a visit to the Oracle at Delphi in order to ask who the wisest person was. The answer was Socrates, and this answer is what compelled Socrates foray into Philosophy: he was trying, in his words, to prove the Oracle wrong.

It should be noted that the Oracle’s response, a surprisingly direct one for a fortune teller, “Socrates is wisest,” was met with a bit of skepticism by Socrates. He didn’t rest on the laurels of that pronouncement but rather came to the conclusion that he knew as much as anyone else, which is to say that he knew nothing. The only difference was that Socrates knew that he knew nothing, where everyone he ran into pretended to know something, or believed themselves to know nothing. Eventually this would lead him to the elenchus method. This is the Socratic inquiry in which a question is asked such as “what is piety” and Socrates and his partner would inquire into the typical answer until they would arrive at either an absurdity or a contradiction indicating that the usual belief of a subject was incorrect. After doing this for a period of time, Socrates eventually upset the wrong people was put on trial, convicted, and eventually executed.

Some want to claim that he was a martyr for Philosophy, others for Skepticism, and still others for Atheism. I’m reluctant to attach “martyrdom” on the last one but it is not a matter of controversy to do so for the first two. The reason for my reluctance is that it is a matter of debate whether or not he was an Atheist. In fact, during his trial he specifically refutes an accusation of Atheism. Now, this could have been refuted for two reasons: the first is that his chief accuser, Meletus, accuses him of being simultaneously an Atheist and a believer in foreign gods which is contradictory. The second is that everyone knew about the Oracle’s answer and if this is what motivated Socrates then it’s a tough call to make that he was an Atheist who responded so furiously to the answer of Apollo’s Oracle. No matter the case, we can still consider him an important focal point in the history of Atheism. The reason is that his life was spent in seeking for answers that had evidence and no subject was too important or too “holy” for his inquiries.

Importantly, he criticizes the accepted notions of religious piety such that even a religious prophet, Euthyphro, had to confess that he didn’t really understand what piety was. This takes place in the very first of Plato’s dialogues and one of the foundational texts in all of Philosophy, Plato’s Euthyphro. Socrates meets up with Euthyphro at the Agora, the Athenian marketplace, right after receiving his indictment for the dual charges of being impious toward the gods and corrupting the youth. Socrates questions Euthyphro on what the definition of piety, or religious morality, so that he can begin to think about his defense. Euthyphro gives an answer that hasn’t change in 2.5 thousand years: what is pious is what the gods love and what is impious is what they hate. This is also known as “divine command theory” of morality. For example the ten commandments of Moses are divinely commanded morals, there is no argument for them other than god loves these rules and hates those who disobey them.

Socrates’s questioning of this concept still carries weight, he asks that if what god loves is pious/moral because it is what god loves, then all of god’s actions are good, and god certainly wouldn’t hate something that he was doing. Therefore the phrase “god is good” is meaningless, because the words are interchangeable. Saying “good” is like saying “godly,” therefore “god is good” is like saying “god is godly” which is a meaningless statement like saying that “Mike is behaving like Mike does.”

The alternative is that the reason that god loves things is because they are moral/pious, e.g. there is some quality in them which makes them moral/pious and that is why god loves them. This too is problematic because it means that the judgments of goodness are independent of god’s will, but are determined by something external to the mind of god. Bertrand Russell points out that this means that “goodness” is logically anterior to god but I would amend that to saying that it is at least simultaneous but not connected to god’s existence.

Socrates and Euthyphro will depart without a clear understanding of piety, but Socrates is still to have his day in court for questioning the religious fundamentalism of Athens. Formally the charge is that of not worshipping the official gods of Athens and corrupting the youth with irreligious teachings such as the absurd notion that the sun is red-hot metal and the moon is made of earth. He wasn’t the first to teach this, in fact this accusation comes from a predecessor named Anaxagoras who espoused a naturalistic worldview and was subsequently exiled from Athens for impiety and corruption of the youth. Philosophy, it’s yesterday’s violent video game and heavy metal album.

Socrates was executed because certain people couldn’t handle the questioning of beliefs that were blindly accepted by Athens writ large. He started the path that many others would follow, that progress can only come from doubt of the way things are and that religious devotion would be fine if the devout could explain the things that they were devoted toward.

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Being An Atheist XVII: Where the American Left Goes Wrong With Atheists

May 9, 2013 Leave a comment

A little correction first, last post should have been number XVI, not number XXVI. Not that anyone is keeping score (but in case anyone is).

Because the base of the American Right (being an American I can only speak to the American political spectrum, I would be interested to know if the following is also true in other countries) has a significant piece that is ultra-fundamentalist Christians, of the bible-literalist sort, there’s a good deal that the right in general gets wrong with regard to Atheists. I’m not sure if people like Glenn Beck or Michelle Bachman actually believe the things that they say (and I’m not sure whether or not it’s worse if they do) but they do say them. When they speak about an Islamo-Atheist conspiracy to undermine the US, or that any person that does not believe in god is immoral it’s easy to see why people like myself would reject the party. However, turning the other direction and throwing all of a person’s support to the Left-wing of the political spectrum is foolish as well. The left-wing, while more accepting of Atheists, makes several errors that are just as bad for Atheists as the right-wing stereotyping…it’s just more subtle.

For my part, politically, I tend to vote on the left wing side anyway. The last two presidential elections I voted for the President, the previous one I voted for Nader in Ohio because I didn’t like the Democrats getting him removed from the ballot. I voted for a Republican state senator but a Democratic US Senator. I’m an issues guy, and while some of my friends think I’m a partisan, I’m not. I just generally agree more with one side than other. While I like the president, I don’t think he’s doing as good of a job as he could be…then again I do recognize that he has more of an uphill battle than any previous president but that’s not an excuse for simply not delivering on promises that don’t require the legislative branch of the government. The embrace of bible literalism by the right, or at least their reluctance to not call it crazy, makes it difficult to side with them but on some issues they have the only reasonable position.

Which is why I see the reason that some of the more notable public Atheists such as Penn Jillette attach themselves to the libertarian camp, and how the late Christopher Hitchens would point out that there is something endemically wrong with the liberal attitude toward religion. Those are the most notable criticisms in my memory, and if two of the most well-known Atheists are critical of liberals then it would be wrong to ignore it. Let me be clear that I’m not endorsing a particular political position, I don’t care one way or the other if you read this and come across voting a certain way. I only care that you think before you do so.

The biggest problem is in the difference between what is accepted and what isn’t by the left. In other words, while Atheists oppose Christian Fundamentalism as being an absurd relic of an ignorant past it’s important to realize that is how we view all fundamentalisms, and indeed all religion. That we are more opposed to fundamentalist religion is sourced in what they want to do if given the reins but all in all Atheists deny all religion as lacking evidence of their truth. The problem is that the liberal attitude toward multi-culturalism seems to give any obscure foreign or ancient religion a pass where they become hypercritical of Christianity. For example they criticize the Pope for being nothing more than elected king over a faith that has little relevance in contemporary times, but then idolize the Dalai Lama when he’s roughly the same thing. Sure he might be a spokesman for civil rights of the Tibetan people against China, but so is the Catholic church. I don’t want to get a lot of hate mail from people thinking I said that the Dalai Lama was a bad person; I’m not saying that—I’m saying that he’s just a man no different in position than the Pope except for religious token specifics. Both are chosen by an elite cadre in a allegedly secret fashion resting on random chance as divine intercession.

If the left is going to criticize the Pope, Christianity and/or Catholicism they have to explain why Buddhism and one of its heads deserves that pass. Is it merely cultural? Is it because they know too little about it? Or is it because Christianity is dominant here and the most extreme forms of Christianity tend to vote the other way? Religion is religion, and if you want to start cherry picking which ones are good and bad you better start listing the reasons, because the blind assumption that the left has been making is not the Atheist viewpoint. If it’s based in the supernatural, we Atheists want evidence or else we are going to hold the tentative judgment that it’s made up superstition.

The other problem is the attitude that the Left takes toward Islam, and it’s along the same line. During the day of and the few days after the Boston Marathon bombing there were two groups of people earnestly hoping that the perpetrators weren’t Muslim: other Muslims and some Leftists. The other Muslims doing the hoping makes sense because they didn’t want to go through what they went through after 9/11/01. Anyone sharing that sentiment gets it right too. There is however a line, not wanting it to be specifically a Muslim just for the reasoning that you want your political opponents to be wrong is malicious and immoral in every sense of the word. It’s politically correct thuggery and nothing else.

There’s a difference of course, one doesn’t want to think that Lindsay Graham is right that the suspects ought to be arraigned as enemy combatants when they are not tied to any war, army or terror group; to be held indefinitely without trial. But hoping that it isn’t a Muslim specifically for that hope makes no sense. Whoever performed the action, performed the action, what does it matter if they were Christian or Muslim or Hindu or whatever? Sure, not all Muslims are of the fundamentalist bent, but that’s the same for Christianity as well. I roll my eyes when someone on Fox News claims that there is a war on Christianity, but they have a point about one thing—when it comes to criticizing religions from the Left it’s always about Christianity. One might counter argue that Fox News has a vested interest in showing the “oppression” of Christians and ignore that other religions get sued or stopped from celebrating too, or whatever is happening to them…and that would be a fair point if 90% of the liberals I know weren’t only anti-Christian. I’m hesitant to even call the Atheist ones “Atheist” because of it. They ridicule Catholics for not eating meat on Fridays during Lent but stay silent when someone asks what items on a menu are Kosher or Hallal.

This is couched in the liberal idea that all cultures are equally good, and that they all have something to contribute to the planet (except European Christianity), it’s multi-culturalism that misses the meaning of the “multi” part of the phrase. Not all cultures are equal and such relativism isn’t good for anyone. While the hippie elite of the Left like to prattle on and on about the unique variety of ways of life, they tend to forget that this modern Western Civilization, in the words of Somali Activist (and not one of the people I am talking about) and member of Dutch Parliament Hirsi Ali is the product of the Renaissance, this civilization is better than one in which marriages are arranged or caste systems exist and part of that is because of Christianity. It can’t be ignored.

The last problem the Left has is the stereotyping. Not every Christian is bible-literalist, xenophobic, science denying, wing-nut. I was as Catholic as they come and I always embraced science and did so without ever upsetting religious figures around me. There are those, of course, that fit that stereotype—Rick Santorum is one—but a majority of the religious are not. I’m rather torn about this because in some ways the reasonable moderates encourage the extremists by staying silent. Not every Christian wants to ban the use of birth control, in fact most want birth control, but the loudest people are often the craziest and they take the microphone. By framing the entire argument as religious right versus sanity, us Atheists are allowing the left to make enemies out of every single religious person out there. Look at how everyone, everyone, thinks the Westboro Baptist Church are not representative of the entirety of Christianity. That’s the attitude we ought to be working for, crazy equals crazy but the Left often just argues against the extremists and then thinks that everyone is going to fall in line. We could use the majority of the Catholics who want access to birth control as provided under the Affordable Healthcare Act as allies but when Leftist pundits paint everyone with the same brush thinking that the Atheists are going to fall in with them they’re wrong and doing everyone a disservice.

Blind faith is against the very nature of Atheism. Throwing in with a group because they don’t have the very worst of religion as their core makes sense only if that was tipping point between the sides. It isn’t, there are way too many differences that this can’t be the one. Many of those issues are more important and more dire than fearing a theocratic coup that would have to shred the Constitution to initiate.

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Being An Atheist XXVI: Indifference

May 6, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write my captivating atheist writings but let me tell you this: Modal Logic is no joke. Eh, it’s kind of a joke, I mean I don’t understand why I needed to understand it but such “letter math” is not my idea of philosophy. Then again, there is a lot of crap out there that isn’t my idea of philosophy. The problem I had with the class is that the entire course was designed around being able to understand our conception of “modality.” Which to my mind (and if I’m wrong an angry email will suffice to correct me), means that an entire sub-discipline, of the subsection of Philosophy known as “Symbolic Logic” is in an incestuous circle in that they created this concept and now they need to create new concepts to understand the first concept. Look, if it’s Western Philosophy and some Greek didn’t write about it, pick a different discipline. Rant number 1 over.

On to atheism. I have a lot of catching up to do on various topics that I have written down in my journal. I’ve been keeping abreast of things I just haven’t had time, and when I have had time rest was a necessity. So we will come back to some of my various topics that I have started. I want to begin exploring the idea of whether or not Jesus existed. I don’t mean whether he existed as some supernatural figure, I obviously don’t believe that, but whether or not he existed at all. I came across an interview with an author on the podcast “Atheist Nomads” who was claiming that the entire thing is made up. I’ll delve into that in the coming months. I also recognize that people will not read something that isn’t regularly updated, and as my semester has ended I’m going to figure out some kind of normal schedule. I’m hoping two days a week, but definitely, one consistent day. Perhaps I’ll even join this twitter thing.

I am awed at how little atheism takes up my thoughts. By this I mean that unlike the stereotype of atheists that exits, we don’t go around singing to ourselves about how glad we are that there is nothing. It’s not like that at all, I really don’t think about it unless some news event happens which forces me to consider it, or I am reading something pertinent to the subject it’s not an occurrence. I don’t have any thought during the day where I am relieved or disappointed that actions do not have metaphysical or spiritual repercussions. My actions are for this world not for some next world that I really hope for or dread. In this respect actions are done for their own sake and not the promise of reward, the fear of punishment, or done in service to some god for whom minor things somehow matter. If I eat meat on a Friday during an arbitrary and ever shifting period of forty days, shellfish, pork, cow, insects, or whatever I do not think that my life will be affected in any manner other than the dietary effect that it certainly will have. This is the kind of superstition that I am free from.

I use the term “Free” because it is the most accurate term to describe the condition. I am not the victim of a self-imposed diet whose only real purpose is to delineate one tribe from another. I’m free to wear garments of mixed fabric without fear of a god who cares about things like that for a reason I’ll never understand, or to trim my beard, and I can certainly sow crops of two different kinds in the same field—not that I am going to but the option is on the table for me. What I think a lot of atheists forget is that for religious people these are not mere superstitions, but actions they believe have actual consequences. Everyday as I look out my window I see young bearded men with curly side burns and tassels hanging from their waists walking across the street and down the sidewalk. Their entire manner of dress is about not offending a god that is petty enough to care about such things. I suppose that we, as a people, tend to think that the universe cares about such things that are place in the near infinite void somehow matters. This would be a nice comforting idea if we went about it in any other way than creating a bunch of rules that inconvenience our lives to such a great deal that we then have to gather together and create a different system of bending those rules. It’s much nicer to be free from such arbitrary rules and restrictions.

There will always be some that will accuse atheists by claiming that freedom is the whole point isn’t it? We don’t like going to church so we deny that there is a god in order to sleep in on Sunday. I don’t feel like worrying about what my pants are made of so I deny that the restriction means anything at all. That might be the case, if everyone didn’t do that as well. When I say everyone, I mean it. Denying that there are no gods is no different than denying in any particular god. When I get on a boat, I don’t sacrifice a goat to Poseidon either, but then again, neither does anyone reading this. What makes the old gods ridiculous when the new gods are different only in the method of practice? The real thing we have to watch is weather and sea conditions; the sea simply does not care whether or not we give it thanks for not sinking our triremes.

If this means I have to sacrifice the special attention of the universe…then so be it. Because I would rather live a life free from the worry that I’ve angered some all powerful deity for forgetting to not speak to my wife one week out of the year than not to speak to her. That’s one the biggest draws of religion, the egotism of it, the idea that every individual is special and deserving of some unique praise. This ignores the fact that the world is governed not by the petty whims of a schizophrenic father figure but by law. Physics, biology, chemistry, these are what rule the natural world.

Unchangeable, permanent, law. Gravity means that everything flows toward the object with more mass, this isn’t going to change—now, our understand of it might change, and our estimation of the constants which are measurements of gravity might change, but the natural phenomenon doesn’t change. Velociraptors always had feathers, and dinosaurs always evolved into birds (except for that period of time when that hadn’t happened yet) it’s just that we didn’t know it. Our knowledge doesn’t change the fact of the matter now matter how much we want it to be.

People ask me what would it take to for me to be convinced that there was a god. Well, that’s the evidence right there. Have one of these laws break for one thing and I’ll accept it. Let an atom go completely out of existence, with no energy conversion, just simply obliviate and then reconstitute. Have some item fall away from the denser object with no magnetic field, and then have it fall back. In short, have something break the normal causal chain that we are used to, but only do it once so that we know that a rule was broken and not that we misunderstood the rule.

These laws are immutable and irreversible, which is why it ought to be a miracle if they suddenly reversed course. But they won’t, because above them is set no master which can change its mind. Our individual accomplishments or piety matter no more or no less than our sufferings and transgressions. Anyone claiming otherwise probably wants something from you, and should be scoffed at until they can deliver results they are claiming. Otherwise what’s stopping me from claiming that all of those abstainments and taboos are really just angering the other one true god? Nothing. No god=no special attention=the universe regards all things in it with one feeling; that of indifference, because it has to since it is not alive.

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