I can see where someone who was very unsettled in what they might believe would feel this way. However, my last post was based entirely on a fairly snarky film done by Bill Maher, called "Religulous".
In it, Bill pokes holes in a light-hearted manner in nearly every religion. He has fun with it, and in so doing, should make some folks do some thinking.
In the end, it's personal -- and since several of you are new to my Blogspot blog (and probably to my Multiply feed, as well), I'm going to restate a few things I wrote about back on 360.
See, unless you've not been paying any attention at all over the past eight years, we've got a fellow in the White House who has all but dismantled the only document we have to govern us (it's called the "Constitution") -- and he's made it very, very clear that (1) it's just a 'goddamned piece of paper', and that (2) he honestly believes 'god' has chosen him to do all this.
To that end, I'm going to restate some things.
I owe a lot to Twain. He wasn’t a good businessman, but he was a great writer. Alternately broke and rich as the world counted such things, he didn’t seem to mind.
In the end, there’s a parallel.
See, I don’t mind, either. My neighbor across the road, John, is the walking/talking/breathing epitome of Ned Flanders, the goofy Christian and neighbor of Homer Simpson. In about a month, you'll be able to see his house from space - because he puts up Christmas lights, and has a Christmas tree in his living room which will easily heat the whole house.
While I think both are a waste of electricity, I’ve also taken to loaning him my ladder, and helping with the lights. Y'see, they're cheery - and I'm not threatened in the least by his Christmas lights, or his tree.
My attorney is another case.
He wishes me Merry Christmas, and never gets the irony of it all, as he's Jewish, I'm an atheist, and I still say Happy Haunakkah.
I have another neighbor who's Muslim. He's got a wondeful sense of humor; his wife runs a wonderful Lebanese restaurant nearby, and I'm a regular and enthusiastic customer. (She joked with me recently about making dinners for 'unbelievers' during Ramadan -when she has to fast - cooking is torture during that holiday, but it pays the bills -- we've both laughed about the irony of it all.)
I'm not threatened by their religion, either.
See, the way I look at it is thus: The world’s religions have, given their inherent negativity (war, mind-control, and all those other things that their practitioners would just as soon we thinking-folks forget) never solved a blasted thing.
They’ve come no closer to explaining things in an empirical sense than before they existed.
However, just as long as they're practiced personally, they're not a threat to me at all.
The reason they're not a threat is -- well -- because of that 'goddamned piece of paper' called the Constitution.
Y'see, we were founded as a secular, Constitutional republic. That's different than a democracy -- as Jefferson said, he envisioned a republic so that 'the mob would not enslave the minority with a vote.'
I'm more than comfortable with that. In fact, I'd like to see us undo the stuff the Neocon's have done to the Constitution, because we're a pretty big country - with Christians, Jews, Muslims - and us Atheists, too.
I'm comfortable with Ned - er; John - putting up his Christmas lights.
I'm comfortable with my friend Amir's wife Miriam fasting over Ramadan.
I'm comfortable with my attorney being Jewish.
The problem in America of late is that there's an element that's not comfortable with my being an Atheist, and insisting that the country remain free for everyone to worship as they damn please, and leave their religion out of the halls of Congress and out of the damn courthouses.
You see, there are 40 million of us Atheists. There are many others who practice 'alternate belief systems' which fall into the Freethought 'orbit', but which can't be readily quantified. Taken together, we're a balance against the more-militant and negative aspects of religion.
Believe it or not, you're all glad we're here, whether you'd admit it or not.
In the end, I don’t know what’s out there. Thing is, I cheerfully admit it. Thing about the Other Side is that they won’t admit it – they’ll just go on telling me I’m going to a place called Hell, because they ‘know it’s there’, and one book or another says so.
Me? I’m excited about life. The fact that I don’t know what it’s about doesn’t make me obsess over classifying, ordering, and ‘understanding’ it all. Some things can’t be understood, and Life is at the top of that list.
On balance, I’m happier than most religious types – I mean, can you imagine the stress of seeing your friends and knowing with all certainty that they were going to a place like Hell?
I mean – with all that 'certain knowledge', if I were they, I’d be wasting no time raising a veritable army of ‘believers’ – and marching through – wait; that’s been done. Sorry.
Y’see, I've said similar things to my Believing friends; they all look at me strangely. Peeing in someone’s ethereal Cheerios is an unsettling thing; no one's done that before, and they're all of a sudden having to say, "My Cheerios are wet! Especially the one I was going to sell on Ebay that looks like Jesus! And you peed in them! That's pee! Dammit! Oops! I'm not supposed to say that! Hey! Is any of this real? See what you've done? You've actually made me doubt!"
Now, peeing in Cheerios is only one of the services I provide for free to my friends -- right along with helping with garden-work, loaning ladders and fixing the occasional flat-tire - - but it's probably the most-disquieting and least-appreciated.
I’m a Freethinker; a Skeptic, and a political Libertarian. I’ll explain each as clearly as I can, and offer some reference sites at the end if you’d like to do a little more reading.
Freethought is a philosophy which holds that nothing should be believed or rejected without hard evidence. The philosophy traces its roots to the teachings of Epictetus (a Greek philosopher who lived between the first and second centuries CE); Epictetus was a stoic, who lived most of his life in Rome and was a major influence on the life and writings of Marcus Aurelius, who served as Rome’s emperor from 161 CE until his death in 180 CE. The “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, along with the “Discourses” of Epictetus form the basis of Stoic philosophy as it is understood and practiced today.
Stoicism, from which Freethought derives much of its basis, is a set of core-beliefs which teaches that a simple life, lived as simply as possible – devoid of many of the trappings of life and emphasizing the simplicity of nature/environment over conspicuous consumption and extravagance, plus valuing reason and logic over emotion, is the best form and method for living a full life.
“There are two rules to living a full life. First, keep an untroubled spirit. Second, develop the ability to look things in the face and see them for what they really are.”
-- Marcus Aurelius
Historically, there have always been Freethinkers, although the persecution of Freethought by the early Christian church, as well as by Islamic religious leaders kept the concept underground past the classical era and into the Middle Ages. Bhuddist religious teachers have embraced Freethought more readily.
It wasn’t until the 1600’s that the concept of Freethought became more acceptable. Philosophers such as John Locke (England), and Voltaire (France) held with the Freethinkers that man’s natural state was that of liberty and equality, and that a person was free to act as he or she pleased, up to the point where that freedom imposed upon another.
The writings of Locke and Voltaire influenced their age, and were a significant part of defining the sociopolitical-construct as we know it today – that the government derives its power from the consent of the governed; not from any arbitrary definition and not by the sanction of a form of deity.
In the 1840’s the revolutions in Germany pushed many freethinkers to emigrate to America. Several Freethought colonies were established in Texas by German immigrants, which led to the spread of Freethought as a concept throughout the U.S. and Canada. The spread of Freethought as a concept led in its turn to the rise of Humanism, a similar philosophy which upholds logic and reason, and which specifically rejects the concepts of divinity.
By now, you’ve guessed right. I don’t believe in any form of ‘god’.
Summing up the personal, my beliefs are as follows:
-- Absent empirical evidence, I do not accept or reject anything out of hand.
-- Logic and reason are the only things which make sense.
-- Unbridled emotion is a very destructive force – whether we call that emotion ‘hate’, or ‘love’ – they come from the same place.
-- A child is born wired to behave – they learn evil. (Note: This is where I don’t square with Locke or the other classicists).
-- Freedom and liberty are the natural states of man.
-- There is not one shred of evidence supporting the existence of a ‘god’. (While there are plenty of hyperboles and superlatives – ‘a baby’s cry’; ‘a rainbow’; ‘the forest in daylight’ – these are not in and of themselves evidence of anything save for what they are).
Skepticism is the specific practice of the scientific method in daily life. Put another way, a skeptic verifies a claim based on objective evidence, not on ‘faith’, anecdote, or other unverifiable pseudoevidence. Skeptics practice the scientific method to the exclusion of all else when faced with a decision – evidence and fact rule the day; everything else is ‘voodoo’.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy which draws its core beliefs both from stoicism and freethought. At its basis, Libertarians believe that people should be free to live their lives as they choose, up to the point where their practices infringe on the rights of others to do the same.
Technically, I’m a ‘consequential’ Libertarian – I believe that actions have consequences, which must in turn be dealt with by a governing body (crime; attacks on the nation; provision of basic services – all require some form of compulsion) - which puts me at odds with the classic Libertarian, who believes that any application of coercion or force is wrong – to the classicist, the collection of taxes; keeping a standing army; compulsory education – all are wrong. My own view is that these beliefs are unworkable (after all, someone needs to keep the streets paved and the traffic-lights working; those are tasks best left to a central authority).
“In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence -- legal or illegal -- to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today.”
-- Dean Russell; Libertarian philosopher and apologist; 1955
Politically, I’m more in line with Milton Friedman, the Libertarian economist and philosopher.
The tenet of ‘self-ownership’ and ‘self-responsibility’ is key to me. As such, I’m not fond of the concept of welfare in any form – I’m very much in favor of reeducation and retraining so an individual may, in turn, become productive.
>It should follow that while I’m in favor of society providing universal health care and supporting the incapacitated, I’m not in favor of a free ride for anyone who is capable of supporting themselves.
Religion and the god-concept
There’s a scientific principle called Occam’s Razor.
Briefly, it states that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
I pose a question in two parts:
We are considering the existence of a ‘god’. To accept that a ‘god’ exists, we would have to assume that (1) ‘god’ created everything, then (2) left; leaving us with not one bit of evidence of his/her/its passing, and not one bit of proof that he/she/it exists.
So, the question – do we (1) accept blindly that a ‘god’ exists, and put our ‘faith’ in that entity (as conveniently described by one or more ‘religions’); or (2) reject the existence of a ‘god’, based on the fact that there is no evidence of his/her/its existence?
I think you know my answer.
The concept of ‘god’ simply makes no sense. Forget that we want to ‘believe’ in something greater than ourselves – forget that we want to ‘believe’ that when we’re done with the daily struggle, something as a ‘greater reward’ awaits us – and forget that we agonize over what happens to Uncle Fred and Aunt Jewell and the family cat when they die.
Those are problems which affect all of us – and I’m no exception. My Mom and Dad are dead. I miss them. When I was ten, I had a cat that was run over by a truck. Dad scraped him out of the gravel with a shovel, and we buried him. I cried for a week.
None of that changes the fact that there’s not one shred of evidence which adequately supports the existence of a 'god'.
Religion, to me, falls into two categories. One is the personal belief system of the individual. The other is an organization based on the support of many individuals who wish to ‘convert’ or change others to their beliefs.
Personal beliefs are usually harmless, unless they involve activities which would harm other creatures (it’s safe to say I view as a form of evil any belief or practice which inflicts pain on another creature.)
Organized religion, on the other hand, is universally evil.
Let’s clear something up here.
The corner-chapel isn’t a problem. If a group of people want to get together, rent a building, get together on Wednesday afternoon and worship ‘god’, that’s not a problem. So far, they’re not coercing others to do the same; attempting to ‘convert’ everyone else, or causing harm.
However, churches follow human nature. It’s human nature to say, “Hey! I’ve found ‘god’! You should find ‘god’, too!” The next chapter has been played out for centuries – and it involves everything from peer-pressure to war.
Religions are, in the end, self-serving. In their elemental state, they do nothing for humanity, save for recruiting new members to keep themselves going. The inevitable conflict arising from this sort of thing is the stuff of history itself – you can draw a timeline from around 50BCE to present-day; examine the wars which were motivated by religion or sanctioned in some fashion by them, and you’ll have catalogued nearly the entire history of human conflict.
“Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence, then, is evil?”
-- David Hume; 18th century philosopher and Freethinker
Religion, it would follow, IS the problem - -not the solution. This is why I detest religion. It sends people to Hell. It also uses whatever force is necessary to survive -- making religions at once unaccountable to the rest of humanity, and also the most potent political forces on the planet.
While some who are reading this might take issue with my conclusion, you will be self-compelled to agree with me here:
There’s not one shred of empirical evidence – not one – to support the existence of a ‘god’.
I’ll leave it open here – there might, indeed, be some form of ‘universal force’ – but it didn’t exist in the form of people named Buddha, Mohammed, or Jesus. ‘God’ did not get himself executed by the local authorities and rise from the dead three days later – there’s not one shred of empirical evidence supporting this.
Mohammed did not rise to heaven from the Mount. Sorry.
Jehovah isn’t going to cause me grief because I didn’t sacrifice a sheep every year and put its blood on the doorpost. Sorry, again.
That’s because everyone I’ve named was either just a person – nothing more – or they just don’t exist.
These are fine fables – if you choose to believe them – but they’re no more or less powerful than my shortwave radio.
History proves me right here.
Freedom and liberty are the closest things to ‘sacred’ which I hold dear.
Everyone is free and equal from birth. Personal choice determines the rest.
Absent empirical evidence, there is no ‘god’.
Surrendering to emotion is destructive.
I was ‘born right the first time’.
Shaking off the chains of religion is the first step to true freedom.
Along with freedom comes responsibility.
Above all else – do no harm to others.