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Without religion… October 31, 2010

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As I have read through Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, I have pondered the remaining value of religion. In doing so, I have been stumped by trying to come up with a single instance where losing religion would deprive humanity of anything valuable. For the last three days, I have wondered if there is anything that religion offers that humanity can’t achieve on it’s own. The realm of human morals has been the last great hope for religion to have any value in the modern world. Religion has invested it’s remaining worth in a concept that it thought it owned. As morals have now been shown to be naturally occurring, what is left of value from religion? I know we will always be able to value religion’s past accomplishments, however diminished by atrocities they may be, but I’m focusing more on what religion has to offer humanity now. What worth is it anymore?

Until very recently, religion was seen as a way to cleanse thyself from the sins of the past, a way to comfort the dying, and a way to give peace to the relatives of the dying. These apparent benefits have turned out to be nothing more than snake oils. The fact stands that man has replaced and improved upon every alleged religious benefit. If religion was held to the same standards of everything else in life, it would have quickly fell into obscurity. Take the evolution of computers for example. If man held computers to the same standard as religion, everyone would still be using Commodore 64’s, regardless of the fact that cheaper, faster, and more reliable computers exist. It’s like people clinging to pagers in the era of cheap cell phones. It’s like old people too scared to surf the net. It’s not only sad, but harmful to the progress of our species.

Saying all of this, I ask, what remains of religion that can be proven to be a benefit that no other societal construct offers? What value can religion prove it offers to man and if no value exists, why the hell does religion persist?

Errors in Genesis October 19, 2010

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After trudging through various attempts by Answers in Genesis to come up with alternative religious reasons for why all evidence points to existence being much much older than just a few thousand years, I hit upon a common theme in each AiG thesis. This theme, which is actually more of an error to the scientific process than a theme, permeated nearly every Answers in Genesis thesis. The theme is that each proponent began their paper with an extreme bias towards the answer to their thesis. To further prove AiG’s extreme lack of credibility and understanding of science, it’s proponents always seem to begin with a concrete answer in mind. This is the opposite of following were evidence leads. This is the opposite of real science. AiG might as well be trying to prove everything came from a cosmic cockroach turd. I mean they can just have someone write a book about everything coming from a turd, begin defending it with the same tactics, and change nothing about the argument and actual conclusions to the debate or they could actually try looking at things from a real scientific perspective. They could forget their wishes and agendas and explore the actual evidence. Surely they realize how foolish they look. Real scientists don’t reach conclusions by ascertaining that a theory is true before completing a process of extensive research and peer review. Real scientists are more than willing to change their opinions with the addition of new evidence. Real scientists base opinions only upon things that can be measured. AiG “scientists” wrap up their god wishes in a blanket of pseudo science and logical fallacies.

The Godless Blog supports the Out Campaign. October 16, 2010

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The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism

Nature of prayer. October 14, 2010

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For the sake of the argument, let’s stretch reality and pretend that atheists are completely wrong about their stance on the nonexistence of gods. Let’s also go a step further and say that one particular god is not only real, but this god also cares for us and chooses to dabble in our affairs. Now let’s pretend that we actually believe religionists that come forward with first hand proof of answered prayers. By taking these first hand accounts, we can ascertain what types of prayers god usually answers. We should also be able to determine what kinds of prayers god tends to ignore. Before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean by the answering of prayers. If I have to pretend that believers are telling the truth about their prayers being answered, I should get to at least require that an answered prayer must not come with any overt human involvement. A recent example of overt human involvement is the hole dug for the purpose of rescuing the Chilean miners. I’ve heard believer after believer claim that the miners were alive from the grace of god. They just throw all the credit to god on this and forget the massive human rescue effort, while it is clearly evident that without human intervention, the miners would have been dead long ago. Human assisted answers will not be counted in my non-scientific examination of prayers.

Examples of answered prayers that believers frequently attribute to god(s): disappearing afflictions and ailments, sudden freedom from stress and addiction, newfound financial stability and wealth, protection from a form of particular harm, safety of self and others, better physical and mental performance, pregnancy and child birth, finding a soul mate, getting a desired job, and accomplishing difficult goals.

Examples of the results of prayers that god has never been reported to have answered (surely someone at some point prayed for these): world peace, an end to all human suffering, resurrection of dead loved ones (Biblical accounts don’t count), immortality, prevention of the death of a crop, animal, or human, prevention of environmental disasters, restoration of a catastrophe or environmental disaster, restoration of ruined vehicles or homes, governmental progress and change (I know religionists praying that Obama will die or get kicked out of office), forcing belief in god or the “right” god (I can’t count how many times unprovoked prayers were said for me to change my heathen ways), and healing of disfigurement or dismemberment.

A person thinking clearly would look at these groups of examples and likely see a common theme, which I believe to be that god(s) only answer prayers that are impossible to account for. It is also evident with the examples of answered prayer that each of the first hand accounts all have natural alternative answers as to how they could have occurred, for instance, when it comes to the healing of internal ailments, it would be much more reasonable and likely that the ailment was imaginary, incorrectly diagnosed, or healed by natural means. Because the natural answers are more likely to be true, the believer has a high probability of putting their credit in the wrong place.

As a majority of the commonly reported answers to prayers are suspect and unverifiable, it is left to the believer to demonstrate a prayer that has been answered overtly and inexplicably by any other means. While it is quickly becoming an atheist cliche, I must maintain that it says volumes that visible answers to prayer do not happen. Believers with physical deformities and amputated appendages appear to be shit out of luck when praying for godly intervention, as do believers that have suffered house fires, child death, or voted Republican. It’s a good thing humanity has taken things into it’s own hands. If it was wasn’t for plastic surgery, prosthetics, house insurance, and grievance counselors, we would be in much worse shape. Now if only we would give proper credit where it was due. You never know how inspirational a simple word of appreciation can be.

For the sake of my sanity and my last point, I will quit with the pretending now. Because the probability of an all powerful god is so low and because nearly everyone has bouts of hypochondria, it is statistically likely that believers that believe their prayers have been answered are in actuality only going through a mental ritual all by themselves. Essentially, the believer starts by thinking in their head that they are in need of something, from there they begin looking for anything that can be perceived as an answer to their need. Once they have perceived that their need has been met, they automatically attribute the meeting of their need to a god, completely bypassing critical thinking and ignoring the possibility of natural answers.

From stigmatization to acceptance. October 12, 2010

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Once upon a time it was an accepted social norm to discriminate against African Americans through various means. Once upon a time it too was a social norm to look at women as inferior byproducts of man’s needs and desires. Now, with the backing of the wonderful ideals of religion, it has become the age of persecution for Homosexuals. The further we look back in time, the more we see that humanity has found all kinds of absurd reasons to hate one group of people or another. This hate seems to have always been aimed at the stigmatized outliers of humanity, the visionaries, the lovers, those seen as too different, and those so beaten down that they dare not speak up. As history has shown, humanity’s outliers, though they go through great suffering, eventually find that they have become a normal part of the social construct. Soon after this occurs, humanity finally takes a critical eye to the past. Humanity will always have those few nostalgic mourners crying for a return to the “good” times, however it can be seen today how normal society views these mourners. We have been justifiably quick in pushing these mourners to the fringes of society. When’s the last time you witnessed anyone in public spewing the virtues of women being relegated to the kitchen? When’s the last time someone stepped up on national television to speak of the inferiority of African Americans? Thankfully, this is a very rare occurrence in modern times. While homosexual acceptance still has a way to go, it at least seems to be on the slow path to accomplishing this. This, of course, gets me to my point, which is that, though atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists, and secularists, are one of the most stigmatized groups, it’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself and we are seen as a social norm. This can already be seen in motion in the more liberal countries of Western civilization. This can also be seen by more and more atheists being accepted into society as a valuable component. Of all the stigmatized groups, atheists may have the biggest hurdles to jump, but we also have the most benefits to offer a society dying from the effects of superstition and religion. We should take great comfort in the fact that, what once was seen as socially unacceptable (women’s liberation, African American civil rights), is now not only the norm, but also vigorously defended by a vast percentage of the population. We can also take great pride in knowing our cause is just and true. What we propose to the world, though they may fear it now, will be one the greatest and most valuable adventures humanity has ever embarked on. We offer a way to help end human division, human enslavement, and the possibility of mutually assured destruction. People that continue to fight the march towards the purest form of human freedom ever proposed, despite evidence to the contrary, will be viewed in the same light as the people that opposed the freeing of the slaves, the people calling for the death of a woman for revealing her face, and the people that fought against women being able to vote. Though it may be the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, we have always managed to come kicking and screaming to our senses. It may take a long time, but humanity has always managed to realize a good idea shortly after it’s had it’s little crisis of reality.

Child abuse, religion, and freewill to avoid both. October 8, 2010

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From the perspective of a former fundamental Christian, child indoctrination tends to leave a very bad taste in my mouth. Having been told time and time again as a young child that there was a strong possibility that I would wind up burning in a fiery pit forever (because god decided I could), having been brainwashed in to thinking that naturally occurring curiosity was a horrific sin (because god doesn’t allow questioning), having been threatened with excommunication from my community and family if I ever “decided” that I was gay (because god hates “fags”), having had genital mutilation performed on me at birth without concerns for my rights or wishes as a human being (because god commanded someone to cut part of their penis off), having been a witness to the ills that accompanies the subjugation of womankind (because god made women to meet man’s needs), and having been gifted with the anxiety that comes with believing in a terroristic and vengeful god (because the lies of indoctrination are extremely hard to break free of when you’ve been indoctrinate from a very young age), so yeah, you could say I see religion as child abuse. After the first hints of doubt started creeping in, I grew very anxious about what these doubts would lead too. I didn’t want to lose my family or burn in hell. As I began my transition to freethinking and as the floodgates of logic opened wide, I often experienced severe bouts of anxiety, often to the point of throwing up on the way to church. I have of course long since overcome these bouts and have actually gained a stronger and more stable mental outlook. I no longer needlessly worry over an eternal damnation. My own offspring won’t have to have their future sex lives damaged by the scarring of unnecessary mutilation and they will not have to have any complexes related to early childhood trauma. My offspring will not start their life thinking their broken, nor will they live with a god sized bullet targeting them. My offspring will be free to explore all possible worldviews, eliminating entirely the generational cycle of brainwashing. My offspring will be taught from birth that questioning everything is not a bad thing and critical thinking is actually a good thing.

To the religionist parents, please consider following your own god’s example. Allow your children the freewill your god claims to have given them. Children are not objects that you own. Let your children have their rights to their future adult bodies back. Let your children examine the world as it is, rather than how you wish it would be. If what you believe in is right, your children will follow your footsteps in mutilating themselves and finding their own way towards your god. When you force feed your children your belief system are they really getting a chance to genuinely believe in what you do? Aren’t they really just doing what they are told? How could their beliefs stand up when they come from an external force? Humanity respects decisions more from people that have researched and experienced what they are talking about. Are you not robbing them of their opportunity to be a person with a solid and indepedently achieved conviction? What would it hurt to allow your child to decide about circumcision when they become an adult? If your belief is so strong, what would it hurt to allow a child to reach their own conclusions? Besides, if your child starts to see religion for what it is at some point, you could always do what you try to do to atheists, plead to your all powerful god to forcefully change their mind against their will.

Killing religion with kindness. October 6, 2010

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As I type this, I sit in an Effective Interpersonal Communication training, which of course has me pondering the issue of effectively communicating to the world why secularism is the better way forward. More so than the disagreement over the existence of deities, us nonbelievers often have difficulty guiding theists past the typical rhetoric and dogma. Most theists are so emotionally entrenched with their beliefs and positions, that they are incapable of taking the path towards clarity. One of the first things you are taught with communication theory is to not be reactionary and emotional. While I know both sides are guilty from time to time, it is the dogmatic and literalist theist that presents this weakness the most. I can only imagine that this occurs due to being taught from the beginning not to question their faith and to avoid contact with nonbelievers. It all really boils down to the theist making a choice to communicate in a nonproductive way in order to avoid where our logic leads. Many theists also start the process of debate by being in a default position of religion being 100% true, which will always be counterproductive to fact based padjustments to thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Us nonbelievers that like hammering away at religion may be better off using a more empathetic tone. We should be killing religion with kindness. When dealing with theists, we should focus more of our effort on listening to the the theist and communicating back to them what their words and thoughts mean to us. We can still get in people’s faces and we can still challenge absurd beliefs, but maybe we should try a little less escalation and a little more constructive criticism. Then again, we are arguing with people that think their feelings are fact.

On a side note, if anyone reading this is secular philanthropist, please give us an American college based upon the values of secularism. Atheists don’t have seminaries, though we all could probably use some additional training in the areas of religion, communication, and science.

Build it and they will come. October 5, 2010

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After months of inactivity and countless hours of flinging Angry Birds, I’m back with tons of new trouble. I am feeling like a fully fueled Pinto ready to explode with the slightest touch. I recently attended my first atheist meet up and it really gave me a chance to gain a new perspective on what could and should be. We nonbelievers no longer need to remain in the shadows. It is far past time we take a stand for clarity and reason. It is far past time for us to unite under the banners of critical thought, compassion, and freedom. Alone, we are often drowned out by the sounds of madness. By sitting idle, we fail to do our part in protecting humanity from charlatans and hucksters. For thousands of years, humanity has been paralyzed with unreason. For thousands of years, rational thinkers have been murdered, silenced, and stigmatized. This can go on no more. This time we fight back. Together, we can help urge on this stand for truth and freedom. The clarion call has sounded. I know it won’t be easy and I know many will suffer, but we will accomplish nothing without trying?