Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Soulful Atheist"? Really?!

Like so much of what gets put up on Huffington Post this latest from Dori Hartley made me laugh for a good five minutes or more. I'm not sure if what amused me was that she seemed to think what she was writing was so profound or that she was so clueless about every label and concept she threw around. She is, put bluntly, not "The Soulful Atheist" for the simple reason that she is not an atheist at all. Her own words clearly demonstrate that she is not an atheist.

"I do not represent any particular way of thinking, other than my own. And as an 'atheist,' I can tell you this:
I pray.
I have faith.
I believe in the cosmic consciousness.
I live in gratitude.
I am moved to tears by the beauty that is nature.
I feel the intensity of great love."

"Cosmic consciousness"? Sounds like the abstract version of God to me. Hartley may not believe in the God of scripture but that is only one version of the God concept. She doesn't seem to realize that the concept is not limited to that one interpretation. She goes on to dismiss other aspects of a more personal scripture based deity while clinging to the notion of a higher divine consciousness. She also goes on to muddle a number of other definitions and concepts like faith, energy, prayer, spirituality, militant...

Whatever else she wants to claim she is definitely not an atheist. She does not seem to get that despite there being very little that makes a person an atheist, really only one thing, belief in a supreme being definitely prevents you from being one. It doesn't matter how you define such a supernatural being since it is still the same basic concept, God.

Personally, I would probably label Hartley a new age spiritualist. She may come to realize that you don't have to belong to a denomination or church or even stick to one definition of God in order to remain a theist. I wouldn't mind her using the label atheist as long as she stopped associating so much supernatural crap with the term.
"Says little, thinks less, and does - nothing at all, faith."
George Farquhar

I have a response

At this point I have heard a variety of responses to Rick Perry's day of prayer. Most of the critiques I agree with completely. It was a disgusting display of ignorance and contempt for both our constitution and our system of governance. Had he acted as a private citizen it would have been perfectly fine. He didn't. He used his office to organize and conduct the event. If you've followed the story you no doubt have heard this and more.

There is one criticism I have not come across, one from the perspective of scripture. I, of course, think the Bible is utter garbage but Perry and his prayer warriors claim otherwise. The Response, the group that helped organize the rally, does list in its FAQ what they believe. They list the following:

  1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost;  they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. 
  7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice what #1 states? Well, this is my response:
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Matthew 6:5-6

Did they overlook this little tid-bit or is scripture only "infallible" when it says what they want to hear?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us."
Dag Hammarskjold

"Always Go to the Funeral"

Another piece from This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women that made me pause and think was Deirdre Sullivan's "Always Go to the Funeral."  I really do not like funerals but I do go. I go for a variety of reasons. Some I think about while others are more subconscious and only occur to me after the fact. Sullivan's father once told her, "Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family." I agree. It is for the family and for friends. It is also for each of us.

I don't believe in any sort of afterlife. My consciousness does not continue after death. I know the deceased has no idea as to whether I attend the memorial or any ability to care whether I am there or not. But I know. It is about supporting those still living who were close to person who just died. In a strange way it is also comforting to me. I do not want to cease to exist. It is inevitable. Since I can not change it I seek what comfort that can be found: other people. I go because I want to remember and hope that when my time comes others will do the same for me.

No one should feel alone. Deep down I know that in some respect we will all end alone. However, the idea of others being around and remembering me helps. I may not completely understand it but it works as well as anything can. It may not work the same way for everyone but everyone does seem to draw strength from the presence of others at such tragic moments. So if you can go, go. It's a simple yet profound gesture. Just be there.

Why does religion require censorship?

A recent post on Big Think posed the question "How Far can an Artist Go in a Religious Country?" I find the question far more interesting than Duggan's rather spineless non-answer. Why do religious people always seem to have tantrums about artwork that they don't like? Seems to me that it has little to do with the individual art works themselves. I see it as a sign of fear and weakness. Deep down perhaps these zealots realize there faith is rather pathetic. After all, they always complain that the art they seek to censor is critical of their religious beliefs. Why shouldn't it be assumed that it is a tacit admission that their beliefs are weak and unfounded? If their faith can withstand even the slightest criticism what can it be worth?

As for Duggan, I seriously doubt he would require an artist to make an "attempt at explaining the purpose behind his actions", if the work did not involve religious content/themes. I also doubt he would insist on "constructive rather than the destructive" forms of expression if it did not involve religion. So, I guess the answer is an artist can only goes as far as religious leash the most vocal zealots impose.

If religions or  religious people can't handle the exercise of free expression I suggest they withdraw from public life entirely. If they want to criticize or complain about other people's views that is, of course their right. However, banning and censoring expression is not their right. Anyone who thinks it is okay to coddle such people should be ashamed of themselves.

Bumping a peaceful Jesus

On my way to work this week I saw a terrible bumper sticker:
"No Jesus, No Peace
Know Jesus, Know Peace"

Since the woman's car was plastered with all sorts of stickers on peace, justice, and tolerance I have to assume she did not bother to think through what that one particular sticker was sending for a message. Setting aside that the word play was a little creative, the sentiment was despicable. Even implying that all non-Christians are belligerent is itself incredibly hostile. It is also rather bleak when you consider that the overwhelming majority of the world are not Christian. If this sticker were true than there is no hope. We are all doomed to a violent conflicted world.

Then, of course, there is the problem with how anyone is suppose to "know" Jesus. Even if you assume Jesus ever existed there are no first hand accounts or evidence of any kind. In practical terms, no one can actually "know" Jesus.

I guess we are all doomed. Maybe that's where the peace and justice come in. We all end equally, violently and can no longer cause further conflict. I still don't see the tolerance, though.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Debating a Cut-out, I mean William Lane Craig

Church Times seems to be crowing about the fact that a few atheists find it a waste of time to debate William  Lane Craig. If you've ever watched Craig "debate" I probably don't even need to point out that they are not being cowardly or avoiding criticism. They are avoiding a big waste of time. Craig has never changed his arguments or strategies despite having them debunked and routinely demolished. He doesn't debate. He repeats the same nonsensical crap over and over. Go to YouTube (typing in his name is all you need to do) and check out a handful of the numerous clips posted there and you will see why they don't want to bother.

"Goodbye Religion?"

I find most of the anecdotes and statistics in Lee's "Goodbye Religion? How Godlessness Is Increasing With Each New Generation" encouraging. However, I seriously doubt religion will ever go away completely. It doesn't seem like he necessarily thinks it will either. I am hopeful that religion will eventually lose most if not all of its public influence. I may not live to see it but it is nice to think that at some point it will be viewed the same way any hobby or personal interest is viewed.

Universal/Ultimate Meaning

This is an aspect of religious belief I have never understood. Many theists seem to have come to the illogical conclusion that if there isn't an ultimate meaning to life then there can be no meaning at all. Why? I don't see why what gives my life meaning has to apply to every other human being on the face of the planet. And, yes, my life has meaning.

I find meaning all around me. All those I love provide more than enough meaning to sustain me indefinitely. I also derive meaning from interacting with people in general. My job and personal interests add even more. It is astonishing to me that anyone could think that life is meaningless. The notion that being an atheist automatically makes my life devoid of meaning would be laughable if it were not so sad. I don't really know that such religious people would find life meaningless without God. I hope that is not the case. If it turns out to be true I can't help but pity them such a shallow and pathetic existence.

In a similar vein, I find it strange that many theists need to look elsewhere for meaning. The idea that the answer to life's meaning is "out there" somewhere seems like such a waste. The view that only God (or any external force or entity for that matter) can give you the answers is in many ways belittling. Humans are amazing animals. We are capable of so much. It is through our ability to think that we create meaning. There is a vast source of meaning that can be found in our personal relationships. Why overlook that? Each of us provides meaning just by existing. To me that is far more beautiful and profound than any concept, doctrine, or ritual any religion has ever produced.

All of this is, of course, my sense of meaning. Maybe it can work for others. Some may really need someone else to tell them what is meaningful rather than finding it for themselves. They may even need to believe that there is a "one size fits-all" answer to the question of meaning. I won't pretend to know. I just know what works for me. I know that I have an abundance of meaning in my life that can not be diminished by the ignorance and biases of others.
"Truth for authority, not authority for truth"
Lucretia Mott

Beware: The Prince of Peace has a sword

"Jesus, whose ministry was all about the relief of human suffering, taught the principles of nonviolent direct action that Gandhi and King perfected two millennia later: the unconditional nonviolent love of friend and enemy.
Since killing was clearly outside of the mind of Christ that should be should be a no-brainer for the church."*

Really?! This, again.

"And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she cryeth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." Matthew 15:22-28
Being a firm believer in "unconditional love" Christ found it necessary to refuse to help a non-Jew and only relented after the the mother of the afflicted child grovels.

"And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it." Mark 11:13, 14
Pissed that the tree is out of season and can't provide food Christ kills it. Short tempered, short sighted, selfish, and violent, and this is the "Prince of Peace."

Personally, I agree that war is despicable and should be avoided. Using religion to justify that position, however, is idiotic. It provides just as much justification for war as it does for peace. Why not oppose war because it hurts our fellow human beings? Why rely on a single authority figure, especially a mythical one? Mr. Kohl just can't seem to shake his self-induced selective ignorance.

*from Gary Kohl's Consortium News article "Nuking Japan's Christian Center"
I have previously commented on the News Consortium site regarding Kohl's "Norway's 'Christian' Killer'"

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Not all is negative

While reading a piece form the book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women I realized all my blog posts tend to be negative. I don't generally think of myself as a negative person. After reading the follow passage from Oscar Hammerstein II's "Happy Talk" I really had to stop and think for a little while.

"I have an unusual statement to make. I am a man who believes he is happy. What makes it unusual is that a man who is happy seldom tells anyone. The unhappy man is more communicative. He is eager to recite what is wrong with the world, and he seems to have a talent for gathering a large audience. It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many spokesmen, and hope so few.
I believe, therefore, that it is important for a man to announce that he is happy even though such an announcement is less dramatic and less entertaining than the cries of his pessimistic opposite."

Well, I am happy. I have a great life! I have a loving wife and two wonderful boys. I have a job I truly enjoy. I have great friends. Even though we are by no means wealthy, we are not in jeopardy of losing our house or going hungry. I really do have a great deal to be thankful for.

As for the negative posts, I can only assume that it has to do with fear and passion. I never want to lose those things I all too often take for granted. I also firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance at happiness. I may sometimes take thing too personally or get caught up by a momentary instinctive or emotional reaction but that may not be so negative in the end. I will continue to criticize and fight but I'll also try to remember all the wonderful aspects of life that surround us.

It is not all negative.
"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I noticed it always coincides with their own desires."
1896 address to National American Women Suffrage Association meeting by Susan B. Anthony

Christians do "have it both ways": or why the AVN are a bunch of assholes

I recently became aware of the American Values Newtork's "Ayn Rand or Jesus" Campaign. It is thoroughly despicable. Aside from being incredibly ignorant and extremely bigoted it is also irrational, unethical, and plain old false. It is premised on demonizing atheists as a whole. The basic idea is to bash conservative Christian politicians for their praise of Ayn Rand. It is both amusing and irritating that the AVN ends up acting as a mirror image of those they attack. Conservatives who praise her politics completely ignore her personal life while the AVN focus on one aspect of her personal life to the exclusion of all else. In any case, I've never understood why people insist on using the ridiculous "guilt by association" political attack. Personally, I think Ayn Rand was a horrible human being with terrible political views. I don't see what either has to do with her having been an atheist.

If these idiots want to get into generalizations and the guilt by association tactic they would do well to fact check. Ayn Rand was conservative (libertarian and/or fiscal conservative) but the overwhelming majority of atheists tend to lean liberal. Rand was an adulterer. There is a correlation between fidelity and higher levels of intelligence, as well higher levels of secular attitudes and/or non-belief. There is also a correlation between non-belief and lower rates of crime. Attacking her personal morality, or lack there of, says nothing about other atheists once you start generalizing. If you pay attention to studies and statistics, on virtually every measure commonly used to verify morality atheists fair far better than theists.

The AVN also seem to be a bit off the mark when they claim that you have to choose between Rand and Jesus as role models/idols. If they weren't so ignorant and self-deluded they may have noticed that Christ isn't that wonderful. They attack Rand and through her conservatives as being selfish and greedy. Apparently they skipped over:
"And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always." Mark 14:3-7
Translation: The poor are always around so screw them. Me, I'm more important than the rest of you slobs so I deserve to be pampered.

Sounds to me like you can be Christian and still be an arrogant, greedy, selfish prick. Conservative Christians can have it both ways. In fact you can "have it both ways" on virtually anything you want within Christianity since the New Testament is loaded with contradictions. So why does the AVN find it necessary to demonize atheists. In politics, we could be allies. Instead, they have to behave like the scum they attack.