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Explanations

June 29, 2016 Leave a comment

I missed last week’s post because I was moving. I have left one city and now live in another, this process required me to take about a trip a day for the last two weeks from the one place to the other. This was annoying and occupied a little over two hours each day just in driving time. It’s also annoying because it meant that I lost my internet last week and won’t have it returned until Thursday (I’m posting this via my phone, thank you Lumia 950). Anyway, my life’s inconveniences are not why any of you read each week, unless that inconvenience is religious based.

Interestingly the move itself does factor into the general theme of this blog, and that’s because of the new house. Explaining it would take more space than I would like, but the short of it is that my family is taking over a family member’s house. It’s literally the only reason that we moved because every other aspect of living here is inconvenient. The new house has lots of the former occupant’s possessions in it and this person really liked him some Jesus. Not counting the last month, I had only met this person two times: once at my wedding where he called me some other name and the other at a funeral where he called me a different name from the one before. That latter time I met him as he was setting up in the church basement to hold his own funeral rite for the deceased. He didn’t think the priest was devout enough—yes he was that kind of religious person.

Growing up my family was religious, Irish Catholic to be exact. No matter how much I they look at me with askance glances because of my atheism my life isn’t that different. They weren’t that religious then. Sure, we went to church every week, twice on those dreaded holy day weeks, but if we forgot those days (and it did happen) it didn’t really matter. Sure, there were a couple of bibles in the house but I can’t recall a single family member opening one unless it was either myself or my brother having to use it for a school assignment. There were some crosses, but there’s a strange line in Irish Catholic houses where it’s tough to figure out if the thing on the wall is there because it’s religious or because it’s Irish. I guess a celtic style cross covers both ends but even now my parent’s house has more Irish books than it does religious books. The only religious figure that had a picture in the house was an icon of St. Patrick, we didn’t even have a Jesus picture (there might have been a Mary icon as well but I can’t recall exactly). That being said a good analogy is to use dinosaurs. According to paleontologists the T-Rex is closer to us than it is the Stegosaurus which preceded it. My atheism is closer to their religiosity than this person’s devotion is to theirs.

I have gone through a cd rack with twenty cases where only two albums weren’t religious. I found records (yeah, the person was elderly if you haven’t already guessed that) where 90% were people singing about Jesus and the remaining were instrumentals of religious hymns, with one or two outliers. The book shelf, the thing I use to gauge a person, was filled with two things: an odd collection of unconnected historical books and the vast majority of them being religious books. I found one that is a prosaic discourse on the problem of evil which I’ll be doing an extended and in depth coverage of when I finish unpacking, the title is “Where is God When it Hurts?”

Among all of this were the artifacts in the house, and this gave me a solid reminder that I think all atheists really need to heed: that just because a person is religious doesn’t mean that they are stupid. I think too often we get into this mindset where only smart people stop being religious. However, all of the things that I have found in the house are of a scientific nature. I’ve found duffel bags that are stamped with dates of technological conferences, electronic measuring devices, drafting compass sets, electronic devices that I have no idea what they are for, etc. I have no idea about this person other than the relationship to my wife. I don’t know what type of employment only that this person was extremely into Jesus. I don’t know if in a debate I could have won, I think so but I don’t know, so it’s a good reminder that not everyone who is super into religion is a dummy ignorant of scientific concepts or critical reasoning.

 

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Afterlife Worries

June 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Saturday my oldest daughter brought up that she was worried about what happened to her after she died. Her main concern was that she didn’t know if heaven and hell were real, and that something might not happen to us after we die. In order to set the scene, I should mention that present in the room were my wife, her two parents, my youngest goblin, and myself. My wife quickly shut the conversation down but not before her parents assured my daughter that there was certainly a heaven and hell and I responded with, “no one really knows.”

She shut it down because she knows the conversation bothers me. It bothers me because it forces me to walk a fine line of expressing my view on the matter (that they probably don’t exist but that, again, no one knows) and not getting that condescending look that I get from the religious people that says, “you’re raising your kid wrong.” Wrong in this case being, not the way that they would do it because clearly I’m mistaken.

Rather than rehash the old debate I’ll delve into why it’s very interesting to me that these thoughts of the afterlife creep into my oldest daughter’s head. At her age, I had them too. I would sit up at night and ponder this problem, in fact, I still kind of do. It’s not the questions about heaven, or the punishments about hell, but what happens after. What exactly does “infinity” entail? I’ve mentioned it before, heaven was described to me like being in church with god all of the time, which I always equated as sounding really boring. My mind would take that to a conclusion that church ended, so what happened after that? Then came the idea that it lasts forever which scared me. I might have been religious, but church was still boring.

I never worried about hell though. Not that I was a perfect kid, it just never bothered me. Maybe there was something in my brain that reasoned it away. Maybe it was the idea that at least in hell something was happening. Or perhaps, like Machiavelli, I just thought it would be full of more interesting people. Still, the only thing that really stuck in my brain was that it was eternal. They never ended. That creeped me out, and it’s still one of those problems that on a bad night can keep me up. It has to do with two notions: infinity and nothingness.

Infinity is a really long time, in fact, it’s all of the time. You have to understand that the concept of eternal goes both ways, it extends to the complete past as well as the complete future. If heaven exists, and it’s eternal, it exists outside of time? It has to if it’s truly infinite, it can’t be a part of time or else we would have a segmentation problem that our good friend Aristotle pointed out: viz, that you can’t parcel up an infinite quantity because you can’t diminish the count. Every part of the infinite is infinite, but if you subtract a sum by itself you should end up with zero, so…it must be free of all constraints. The same goes with nothing, you can’t divide up a quantity by nothing and expect something, it leads to irrationality. I would lay in bed and think about these things as a child finally settling on a non-answer because there was no way that anyone could really know unless they believed.

It’s a heavy concept even for me now, but I do remember how difficult it was to grasp the concept when I was a small child. It was so difficult that I couldn’t even begin to phrase the problem correctly when people would ask me why I couldn’t sleep or what was bothering me. The difficulty is that there is no answer and if your mind has already started questioning these concepts the answer of “just be quiet and believe” isn’t going to work.”  I was probably in my early teens when the issue really first entered into my head and I know roughly where they came from. I’ve always had a prediliction for mythologies and all of the mythologies start with a divine being creating the world out of existant materials. Even fictional mythologies like I would find in my role playing books would start the same way: a bunch of gods making the world out either the four elements, or some other material important to that ficitonal world. It always raised the question of: where did they come from. Was the past eternal? Not only where did the gods come from but where did the materials they used come from?

One of the great divisions between the Greek world and the Christian world was in the concept of nothingness. The Greeks wholly rejected the idea but the Christians had to accept it since the book says the world was created out of nothing. However, I knew then that it was just lip service, because “God” was always there so there is no nothing. There was always something but if that extended into the future what was the nature of infinity going forward. If lip service was being paid to the past was it could also apply to the future. Even Revelations structured its story with an end, but then was there going to be an end to that city of clear gold? None of it made sense. It was an existential terror before I even knew what the word meant.

The only way I overcame it was in accepting that there are only two possibilities that exist: either I’ll never know in which case nothing happened after death or that I would know in which case there was an afterlife. There was no way to find out otherwise. No amount of preaching was going to fix that solution because all of my religious instruction admitted that belief without evidence was necessary, they would focus on the doubting Thomas story and then explain that the moral was that he was wrong for wanting proof. If they had just admitted that they didn’t know then that might have helped me out. Yet they couldn’t because I think the question scared them too.

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Suffering a Witch

June 1, 2016 Leave a comment

When I lived in Ohio, I knew this guy named Eric. Eric was a goth, Eric was also a self-described witch. This was troublesome to me at the time, not because it offended my waning religious belief but because when anyone describes themselves as a witch my brain files them in the “don’t talk to” category. They get filed this way not because I think Wicca is a bullshit religion…at least not anymore bullshit then all of the others, but because these people are always insufferable about how persectured their people were. This is ironic because in order to believe this they have to believe the Christian narrative about them since it’s the only reason that they would have been persecuted to begin with.

Eric described his people as having been burned for being witches at some point in the past. As a historical note witches in the new world weren’t burned, they were hung. He’s making a persecution claim based on a myth. Even in Europe during the Inquisition the witches weren’t normally burned. Heretics were burned, Catholics burned Protestants for denying the authority of the Pope and transubstantiation, Protestants burned Catholics, Christians burned members of other faiths, etc.–it all depended on who had more authority in any particular region. Not to say that no witches were ever burned at the stake, but that for any clear amount of witch burnings there would have had to be a lot more witches than there were. It also makes the assumption that Wicca was an ancient religion and that these people were part of an oganized mass group that was being stomped out. None of this is remotely true, but that didn’t stop Eric from claiming that it was.

The real question that I want to address today is: what is a witch? Let’s dispose of the self-described witches and the mean lady with a cat. Let’s figure out what exactly it meant when the bible says in Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

So what is a witch? Is it someone that casts spells, talks to animals, speaks with the dead? Because if that is the answer then aren’t all religious followers witches? I find no concrete difference between casting a spell and saying a prayer. They are both equally effective in that they are both completely ineffective. What is going to happen is going to happen, no amount of words said is going to change the events of the world. It doesn’t matter if the words are said in a kneeling position or over a silver plate with the entrails of a frog. The adherent still hopes their words are going to change reality. The only real difference is in the accidental features of the action, otherwise in essence it is the same thing.

The Bible condemns astrology, divination, and enchantments; but then goes on to use those same things in its heroes. Unless, of course, that the terms mean different things. In both Leviticus and Deutronomy it condemns those who are “observers of times” (Lev. 19:26, Deut 18:11) which we are taking to mean astrologers which makes perfect sense. I have my own problem with astrology (as in it’s utter garbage) but the act of looking into the heavens to figure out the future isn’t condemned by the Bible outright. Jesus tells people to look to stars in order to figure out when the end of the world is going to happen (Luke 21:25) and even in Genesis (1:14) the stars are set so that we can determine the passage of time as well. I’m quite confused since god is later condemning the very thing He created for that very purpose? I suppose if I wanted consistency out of this book I should never have read it.

Necromancy is literally speaking to the dead. I don’t suppose the Bible is saying that we should murder all of the people that speak to the dead because that would be just about everyone who has ever lost another person. I am going to take the meaning here as one who speaks to the dead and then claims that the dead speak back. This type of person is clearly a con-artist or suffering from some kind of delusion. The first is committing a crime, and should be punished, but perhaps not executed. The latter person is in need of care. However, neither of these people are really speaking to the dead so why address it in the first place? Make the command from the perfect, omnipotent being “thou shalt not pay attention to the necromancer and they shalt go away.”

The real problem is that there are no witches and there are no people communing with the dead, those aren’t things that actually exist. Unless of course we are labelling intent as action. Someone may sincerely believe that they can speak to the dead or cast spells but there is no justification for this either. Again, it’s another in a long line of divine commands that are silly, unjustified, and contradicted in other parts of the perfect word of god.

The only assumption I can make about this command is that people thought these witches and wizards were legit. Otherwise there is no harm being done. I’ve asked before, if psychics were real, shouldn’t they be our priests? The same thought applies here: if these people were really seeing the future in the stars, entrails, tea leaves, or whatever their method was, why aren’t they in charge? The story of Exodus has this very problem, the priests of the pharoah perform a bunch of magic then Moses does the same magic, does this mean that the Egyptians have the same abilities as a person hand picked by god? If this is the case then the god being should stop their abilities and watch the faithful of these magicians dry up.

The real issue though is in the perception that this kind of stuff works. It’s a problem I deal with in my skepticism and conspiracy theory course: the theorists often give way too much authority to groups that simply don’t have it. The Free Masons don’t control the world bank because they don’t have the power to control the world bank. Witches shouldn’t be feared because they commune with the dead, because they simply don’t have that power. If they did, then they should be in charge given that they are in a unique position to learn first hand from the past. It’s just fear of the unknown and tribalism. The other people pretend to speak to the dead and read the stars so kill them lest their ways corrupt ours, now sacrifice me a goat so sayeth the Lord.

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