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Questions for Atheists

October 27, 2015 2 comments

From time to time one of the many atheist blogs (of the many I follow) will post a list of questions posed by a theist to challenge the lack of belief of an Atheist. Typically they are the silliest of questions ranging from “how can you say religion is so bad when atheism is a religion” to “if Evolution is true then how come there are still monkeys?”* These questions are supposed to be trap questions that Atheists are not supposed to have an answer to. The questions stem from a misunderstanding of what non-belief really means by individuals who would rather draw up a caricature and attack that, rather than actually engage the simple fact that Atheists reject belief without hard evidence.

I was rather surprised in viewing my reader when a list of questions appeared that seemed as though the poser was genuinely curious. I’m going to run down the question list as well, the original post can be found here. I’m going to break this up into two parts to avoid TL:DR but I’ll list the remaining questions at the bottom.

1: Why are you an Atheist?

This is a very complicated question but I’ll keep the answer as short as possible. Simply, I don’t see evidence for the belief in a higher power. Maybe the Deists have it right and there is a creative intelligence but that’s a stretch given how arbitrary the universe seems to be regarding what gets created and what does not. Yet the assertion that “there is a god” is not something I can honestly commit to. I find no religious text to be compelling as they merely assume you are going to believe in it and then you have to buy the stories. My collection of Norse Myths is placed right beside the Christian Bible and I believe both of them in the much the same way. Show me evidence and I’ll change my mind but until then I’m not agreeing.

2: Have you ever believed in a higher power?

Yes. I was a believing Catholic for a majority of my life. I was raised in a Catholic household, went to Catholic school, attended church on Sundays, was an altar server, and participated in various religious activities. The last several years of this blog explains why I started drifting away until finally ending up as an Atheist.

3: If so, did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

No. This is a popular stereotype that is pushed by the religious. They think that non-believers only drift away because they are angry at their higher power because they equate disbelieving with hate. I don’t hate god because to me, that would be like hating Sauron or Voldemort. I should also add that I’ve never met another Atheist who has explained that their non-belief comes from some kind of traumatic event.

4: If not, why did you stop believing?

Two main reasons, and as stated above, several years of this blog have been devoted to that explanation. First off, the stories either do not make sense or are contradicted by other stories in the same book. For contradiction: Jesus has two different genealogies which cannot be possible.  For nonsense: the Bible claims a lot of knowledge of the world but as we have discovered (both before its writing and afterward) it’s not true i.e. if I ask how Jesus and family escaped Herod’s troops and the reply is, god’s will, I’m not going to take it on faith. I’m going to read some Roman history and find out that the massacre didn’t happen, the census didn’t occur when it was said to occur, and the idea that you would have to journey to the place of your ancestor’s birth to be counted is an absurd requirement for a number of different yet equally valid reasons.

The second reason was that too much of religious belief was hidden behind “mysteries.” I would be told that there many things that were mysterious and thus weren’t subject to questioning or at least not by a good Catholic. I, like all people, am naturally inquisitive and attempting to stem my nature only led me to read more which cleaved the idea that “mystery” was an explanation. The explanation of transubstantiation was always a mystery, but in looking into it (because, again, inquisitiveness is bad) it was patently obvious that it was made up. Mystery is a label designed to shield hard questions from followers.

5: What do you think happens to us when we die?

Other than an explanation of chemistry/biology I have no idea. Nothing, maybe something, I don’t know but I’m not going to live my life on some Pascal’s Wager/wishful thinking dream unless I can see some evidence for it.

6: Without believing in a higher power, where do you think we get our morals from?

I’m, by trade, a philosopher so I can explain this from numerous perspectives but the simplest answer is that if we are going to be social creatures we need some kind of rule system that is conducive to that. We can’t have a society if we allow members to steal from or murder and rape each other. Even lying impedes it, though not to the same degree. Religious morals are merely deified versions of the idea that “we are all in this together.” Whether you come from a Kantian or Utilitarian perspective morals are merely the rules that allow us to get along before fear of external punishment and ideally these are what the legal system is based on.

7: Where do you think the universe came from?

I really have no idea other than giving the astrophysical explanation as incomplete as that seems to be. The thing about this question is that I feel absolutely comfortable not knowing about what happened in the beginning as I do not knowing what happens at the end.

8: What are your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?

Dawkins is the person who coined and defined “meme” and has a great rebuttal to several arguments seeking to prove the existence of god. As an evolutionary biologist his work is impressive. However he has terrible views on women and really needs to be quiet when it comes to subjects outside of atheism and evolutionary biology.

Harris is a neuroscientist who has done some interesting work examining the brain. I have not read any of his atheistic books. He comes across as overly harsh with a severe anti-Islam streak, however his comments are directed so that liberals who too often excuse the actions of Islam as being just the work of extremists will have to face the cognitive dissonance they engage when those liberals blanket criticize Christianity. He’s a bit too extreme for me.

Hitchens was an interesting character. His take down of Mother Theresa was eye opening for me and he was the first atheist writer I encountered who included the Eastern religions in his attacks. He’ll always have my respect for doing that. I also liked that he managed to piss off everyone at one time or another by merely sticking to a consistent world view especially when he would explain that the loss of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was not a bad thing. I’ve read him more than the others.

The thing is that while those three individuals are the most well known atheists they don’t speak for us. Just because they are acerbic to some they get picked out as being the spokesmen for an entire group that has no hierarchy. We don’t have an Atheist Pope or minister that tells us how to think. Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Paine are the anti-religious writers (they were both Deists) that I have read the most. There is no official canon.

We’ll finish the list next week. Below are the remaining questions.

9: Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

*In case you are curious the answer to both are as follows: Atheism isn’t a religion so the question begins on a false premise and the second question utterly misunderstands Evolutionary theory.

Categories: Uncategorized

Fear Mongering

October 20, 2015 1 comment

The American presidential election is more than a year away, but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the news. Right now, for some incredibly stupid reason Donald Trump is the front runner or the Republican party nomination. This is distressing. Not because he’s going to get the nomination (he will not) but because part of his popularity stems from his ability to make people afraid and then tell them that he can fix the source of the fear. This is the story relevant to the blog as Trump fields a question at a town hall.

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims,” said the questioner in the audience at the New Hampshire town hall meeting on Thursday. “Our current President is one. We know he’s not even an American,” he added. “We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?” Source: Time.com

Trump’s response, which he has since dialed back, was that it was one of the things he was looking into. I’m not going to spend much of this post on Trump, because he’s irrelevant to my point. What is scary about the question was not the answer but that this person is more than likely asking a question that he feels is important. The person who asked the question feels that his country is under threat by Muslims who are forming training camps with the intent to begin some kind of war against either the people or the government itself. They are afraid of a religious theocracy being put in place here and their religion being outlawed.

I’ve mentioned several times since I have started writing about Atheism that the Liberals of the American system often get religion just as wrong as the Conservatives but they do so in a different way. Liberals tend to be more forgiving of religious atrocities committed by members of religions that aren’t Christianity. They blame the rise of ISIS on the Iraq War, which to some extent is true, but it’s also the fault of a an extremely narrow reading of the Quran and its ability to generate followers. The more extreme you get the more Western Imperialism is blamed for these kinds of things. The Conservatives seem to think that the only religion valid in the US is Christianity and to some extent Judaism. The further right you go, the more that gets exclusionary as Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, and Atheists become people that are deemed un-American. To think this you have to already be on the extreme side, but then comes the fear which Trump has been exploiting to gain followers.

This idea that a religious group has been arming and training its members in order to subvert the Constitution and put in place a theocracy is without foundation, unless that group is Christian. Right Wing Christian militias have been gaining popularity in the last eight years, one group: The Oath Keepers has been particularly active and vocal about its opposition to the US government’s ability to enforce its laws. Imagine if this group were made of Muslims who vowed to protect the Constitution.

Extremist Christians in this country have been steadily trying to eliminate or enforce their way of life on the rest of us who do not agree with their positions on a variety of issues. We’ve had state governments attempt to erect blatantly religious statues on public ground and then deny other religions the right to do the same and the current push to defund Planned Parenthood is only based on religious ideas. In Williamson county, Texas, a person applying to become a constable had to undergo a religious test to determine whether or not they were Baptists. Of course we have Kim Davis, who decided that her religion meant that she couldn’t do her job anymore, but not so much that she resigned. I could go on and talk about a judge who ordered a non-Christian woman to attend bible study as a way to allow her to share custody of her children but listing these situations depresses me.

My problem is that despite this vocal growth of people who are so afraid of a Muslim theocracy they are ignoring the other one that seems to be gaining strength. This country was founded on the idea of a separation of church and State yet this only gets applied when it’s the religion that a person isn’t a member of–which was the whole point to begin with. What gets forgotten about the establishment clause is that it was designed to protect one religious group from another and is applicable now as it was upon its enactment. These people who think that the Muslims are invading are just the type of person the law was specifically against as they are merely seeking to demonize a group of people that they don’t know because they threaten the worldview that is held dear.

It’s not happening. As an Atheist, I don’t agree with Islam. I think of the religion in the same way that I think of Mormonism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, et al. I have no love of their edicts or their book, but I respect their right to live in a country that guarantees the right to free religious expression and renders illegal the requirement of a religious test for public office. These apocalyptic scenarios should be more worrisome. We shouldn’t dismiss these people as lunatics who are harmless because these are the people that stockpile weapons and are looking for a justification.

Trump didn’t create these people, but he’s brought them out and somehow legitimized them to the point where it’s acceptable that at a public recorded meeting someone would ask such a question and that he would not shoot that person down. It’s also apparently accepted to the point where the only condemnation of his lack of response came in a mitigated response from Chris Christie who thought he “handled it wrong.” The correct response was, “Show me these camps” because they are located in the same place as Obama’s FEMA camps, the dead aliens from Roswell, and my collection of Unicorn horns—nowhere.

Words and Deeds

October 13, 2015 1 comment

Quick update: last week’s post was featured on a website located in Denmark!

It’ll be slightly important to know that entry because this entry is directly related to it. Whenever I post a new entry I also double post it on both my facebook news feed and also on my Twitter. It’s just self promotion and I’m trying to get as many readers as possible in the most economical way. This sometimes gets my posts comments to which I respond on the media that they were posted in. However sometimes the comment is somewhat poignant and I address it in the following week’s post.

In response to last week one person posted two comments which I’m going to repeat verbatim (I’m withholding his name because I’m not a monster); comment 1: Why so angry? Comment 2: Should a Christian think an atheist is a jerk until the atheist subscribed to a Christian world view?

Dealing with these comments in order I reply that I’m not angry. I’m not angry at the Pope, I’m disappointed which is a weird feeling to have for a guy that doesn’t consider him to be of any importance in my daily life. That should have been apparent. The Synod concerning the Catholic view of the family, divorce, premarital relationships, and LBGT issues is currently under way. Of the many attendees that are going to present to discuss what the view all Catholics are supposed to share on the family, no women are allowed to participate. A group of women is allowed to audit the session, but not allowed to contribute. I’m aware that this Synod is a gathering of Bishops, that there are no women Bishops (because they aren’t allowed to even begin the step toward becoming one); but there are still Nuns. And sure, Nuns can’t have families but that only means that they could contribute exactly the same relevant information as the men.

Let us not forget either that this inclusive, inviting Pope has just recently fired a priest for coming out as gay. In the interest of fairness I’ve read several news articles on this subject and they don’t seem to agree whether he was fired before or after he made the public announcement. The official story is that he is violating his vow of celibacy, which is, of course a big deal in being a priest. It’s a terminable offense, I get it. However, since the church doesn’t fire priests who have broken their vow of celibacy with children it’s quite contradictory to nail the one and then shuffle the others. This is where my disappointment comes in.

My anger though, is not at the Pope or the millions of Catholics who adore him, it’s at the Atheists who think he’s something different. Again, I hoped that was clear from the post. A commentator on this site mentioned that at least with the last guy we knew what we were getting. That Benedict didn’t do anything about the ongoing child abuse problem wasn’t upsetting because he was in charge of debacle under the John Paul II in other words–we didn’t have an expectation that things were going to change. The same with every other issue that I raised last week: Benedict wasn’t talking about changing things so when the status quo continued it didn’t really matter. When Atheists talk about the new guy like he’s a breath of fresh air, they should consider their phrasing because it’s all air. Expecting him to do something about those words was one thing that I even bought into, but there’s a statute of limitations on how long we should like a person if all they are doing is talking. As I pointed out last week: he can make changes with a pen, and he’s yet to sit down and do so.

Comment 2 is a little different. I get what my friend is saying. He’s saying that I shouldn’t judge the Pope by expectations of what I, as an Atheist, would want. That’s understandable. It’s unreasonable of me say that Pope Francis is a jerk until he admits that Jesus wasn’t a real person, that the Bible is a whole fiction, and that the Sacraments are just mythological rites with no reality backing them up. It would be just as bad to call a Buddhist a jerk until they denied reincarnation or a Muslim until they denied that Muhammad ever talked to an angel.

That’s not what I was doing. I haven’t asked the Pope to stop believing in Catholicism. What I was asking is that he back up some of the words with deeds. I’ve mentioned many times before and even last week, I was raised Catholic so I know many things about the religion and I’m not judging him by it…at least not last week I wasn’t. Merely pointing out the vast gulf between words and deeds isn’t questioning his religion or identity: it’s questioning his integrity.  If he’s not going to make the changes, then why even tease the possibility? It’s disingenuous.

There’s the possibility that each of those comments is a testing of the waters. He’s seeing how the hoi polloi are going to react. If that’s the case then, well, that’s pretty inane since we have a pretty good idea how the crowd is going to react to something as inconsequential as claiming that even an Atheist can be saved provided they are decent people: the old conservatives are going to hate it while the younger Catholics are going to nod along happy that some of their friends are going to avoid Hell.

For the final time: I’m not mad at the Pope, I’m just disappointed. This is a guy that everyone tells me is going to change things and bring the Vatican into the 21st century. Those people are constantly annoyed because I keep waiting for proof of anything. In the end though I suppose my disagreement about this guy is just a metaphor for my disagreement with religion. If mere words without evidence or argument are all this guy is offering I’m going to have to be an Atheist about him too.

How the Pope Can Win Me Over

October 6, 2015 2 comments

People ask me about Pope Francis all of the time. They do this because they know I’m an Atheist and the American Left wing seems to love him; and for some reason they equate Atheist with liberal. They do this also because the Pope has said that Atheists might be welcome in heaven provided they are good people, and has come out in support of science. So when I’m asked the conversation usually goes like this:

“So you like this new Pope right?”

“No, actually think he’s an asshole.”

“But, he thinks people like you are ok. Why wouldn’t you like him?”

I’ve said it awhile back, atheists who like this guy for the reason that he thinks we’re not hellbound have set a really low bar. Yes, that’s great that he doesn’t think I’m going to suffer for all of eternity simply because I no longer believe the same thing he does; but I don’t need this permission from him in order to be happy. Thinking that I shouldn’t be burned at the stake makes the last twenty or so Popes better than all of the ones in the Middle Ages but not by much. That’s like saying I should like the last five people I walked by because they didn’t start screaming about how I’m going to Hell; sure it’s a good start but it really ought to be the baseline anyway.

I’ll admit one thing, he talks a good game but like the poet Dr. Dre said he’s moving his mouth a lot but he ain’t saying nothing. Every time this guy says a good thing, he dials it back one step with the very next thing out of his mouth. The Vatican is one of the largest private land owners on the planet and he says that we need to be concerned about the poor and homeless. Ok, fine, you lead by example then I’ll know that you are being serious. Until then, it seems like he’s just talking. Is he better than the last guy? I guess, I mean I really don’t know because he hasn’t done anything of note other than sounding better.

I was raised Catholic so I know how the system works and it’s not a Democracy. He’s one the last kings, he gets to make policy with a pen without any of the bullshit concerning enough votes from a Senate/Congress/Parliament stands in his way. There is also no re-election process, he’s in for life. There is no way to get him out of office short of the old Renaissance method of assassination.This is a person who can literally invoke a label of infallibility from his throne, meaning that what he proclaims might as well have come from god for how correct it is. Now, I’m aware that this isn’t every pronouncement and also that it is extremely rare that it’s invoked but I’m just saying that it’s a tool he has at his disposal. So what does this Pope have to do to get me on his side? Short answer: something, anything that backs up roughly half of the things he says.

He cryptically tweeted, “inequality is the root of all evil social evil” last year. Yet he’s done nothing to either back that statement up or further explain it. Is he talking about gender equality? I doubt it since he’s done nothing to advance that concept within his own organization. Women are simply not able to be equal within the confines of the Catholic hierarchy, and this guy is simply letting that system chug on while reminding women that while they are important in spreading the Catholic religion, they apparently aren’t important enough to become ordained. The best they get is that he’s been encouraging the clergy to share roles with the common folk–including women. Yet this appeal to free labor doesn’t move the needle at all when you stop to think that women have only one official role within this vast empire and it’s always subservient to the lowest male role. You want me as a fan (I strongly doubt I’ll ever be a believer again) give women the opportunity to ascend the hierarchy.

Was he talking about social inequality? Because then I would like him to answer as to how priests who have been convicted of sexual molestation are being transferred to South American poor parishes. What’s the matter, did it get too hard for the Vatican to just move them from state to state, or from parish to parish in the US? I’m willing to bet it’s just easier to have them in countries where a religious official is seen to be more important than it is in the US. Want me as a fan? Let secular law deal with them, while ecclesiastical law removes them from their positions of authority.

How about this for an idea: remove the antiquated ban on birth control. Look I get it, life begins at the zygote stage for you people, then why not allow people to prevent the zygote from forming? You can still condemn pre-marital sex but by not doubling up on the sin there can be at least the prevention of disease and unwanted pregnancy. Sure, you may be one of the largest providers of AIDs relief in the world, but your ludicrous stance on condoms runs in contradiction to it as de-stigmatizing condoms would lessen the spread of the virus. At least, the very least, denounce the claim that AIDS is somehow able to penetrate them at a rate higher than any other disease as Cardinal Trujillo did back in 2003 in stark contrast to any empirical science on the matter. Now, I’m aware that there was some cryptic words that Benedict used in which they may be allowed to be used, however the vatican immediately pulled back the comment saying that it is a step toward moral responsibility but not a morallly justified step. The church allows for the birth control pill under it’s hair splitting doctrine of double effect based morality and I think it would be easy to twist that already twisted logic into preventing the spread of a disease which they spend so much money and time seeking to prevent.

Yes you have your Synod on issues regarding families as we speak, you can make considerable changes to doctrine and attitudes. If all of your talk about social inequality, gender inequality, and the plight of the less fortunate is anything more than wind you should do it. Otherwise you’re just the new boss, same as the old one.

Categories: atheism, Pope francis