Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Another Church Experience

I went to my Son’s church today to hear him sing in the choir.  They were really quite good.  The music was a mix of gospel and soul with some latin rhythms thrown in.  Of course, the lyrics were all “praise the Lord”, and “Jesus” repeated ad nauseum.   

I could see that people were moved by the music; many singing and swaying to the beat.  It was inspiring.  Not inspiring in a spiritual way, but in a “isn’t this great that we can all enjoy this together” kind of way.  I can understand why people would be moved to feel as if some kind of spirt was among them.  

I felt that too, but it wasn’t a spirit of gods or angels or anything like that.  It was a spirit of belonging and sharing.  I’ve also felt the exact same feeling at rock and pop concerts.  When I saw Elton John, the crowd sang and swayed to the soulful lyrics of “Rocket Man” or “Candle in the Wind”.  When I saw Simon and Garfunkel, it was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovey)”.  When I saw  Paul Simon solo, it was “You Can Call Me Al”; Barry Manilow, “I Write the Songs”; Chicago, “Saturday in the Park”.  

These musical experiences were all moving and inspiring because it allowed us, as an audience, as humans, to share common emotions of love, joy, tenderness, and excitement.  It is the spirit of togetherness and sharing of emotions that is at play here, not the spirit of the lord or any other supernatural entity.   Music unites us and allows us to share our humanness.  

The pastor (this was a Protestant service, in contrast to my last church experience) gave a sermon titles “The Dangerous People”.  According to him, the people who are truly dangerous, “to themselves and others”, are those who “think they know, but don’t know” (his exact words, not mine). He said that we need to be willing to accept council and instruction from others.   He couched this in knowledge of the Bible, using Apollos and Paul from the New Testament as examples.  

He said that Apollos was a great preacher and very knowledgeble in the scriptures, but that he only knew of John the Baptist, and since he didn’t know of Jesus, he was somehow dangerous to himself and to others.  How Apollos was dangerous he didn’t say.  What he did say was that once he was told of the true way of Jesus, he learned from that and started preaching the gospel of Jesus.  That, somehow, was supposed to show us how we must listen to wise council and not assume that we know everything.  

He never said how we can differentiate good council from bad, truth from falsehood, only that we must be willing to admit that we don’t know everything and to listen to those who know more.  He also didn’t tell us who “those” are.  I found the message pretty muddled.  I suppose that you could take from this that we must be humble and open to new ideas, but I didn’t get the feeling that this was what he really meant.  To me, he seemed to emphasize the idea of “dangerous people”, but without ever letting us know how to tell “truth” from falsehood. 

One other thing that he said really struck me, because it was so self-contradicting.  He said that we have the liberty of praising and doing the will of God.  How can you do the will of an all powerful god and still have liberty?  This is subjugation disguised as liberty.   It is the same as saying that Americans value liberty, but then say that we are not real Americans if we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, completely missing the fact that by pledging allegiance to anything, be it God or country, we are trading our liberty for servitude to some higher master.

I’ve been learning quite a bit from my forays to church.  I’ve learned that there are some wonderful ideas out there about how we can be better people, but they always get watered down by the trappings of religion.  Instead of using the example of how we should be humble and admit that we don’t have all the answers in order to think for ourselves so that we can learn and grow, it comes down to just having faith.  Well, you can’t have faith and truly think for yourself, because to really think for yourself means to question everything, which faith can not allow.  

I find it almost sad to see such potential for real understanding of the human condition and the world we live in lost in a morass of faith, platitudes, and servitude to a “higher power”.   This makes us compliant and docile, just like the sheep that the shepherd figure of Jesus requires us to be.

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism | , , , | 1 Comment

Dehumanizing Atheists

This vile piece of hate came to my attention the other day:

Atheists are not technically human beings (they have no soul) therefore they are not protected by our nations laws and bill of rights.

Now, based on his other tweets, TeaPartyTony is nothing but a hate spewing, racist, misogynistic jerk.  I try to avoid these types, but what made this stand out for me was the part about Atheists having no souls.  

Given some of Tony’s other tweets, he expects to see atheists burn in hell, but here he says we have no souls, so I guess we can’t go to hell.  I doubt Tony sees the conflict between his two statements, but then again, I’m guessing that he probably doesn’t care.  In either case, he is putting atheists in a class of people who he considers to be subhuman.   

This tactic of declaring those who you dislike as less than human goes back into antiquity.  We like to think of ourselves as good people, or at least as adhering to some kind of moral code.  To hurt or kill another human goes against most peoples’ moral code, so when they find themselves in conflict with others outside their group they have to find a way to rationalize the hate they feel.  They need to make their opponents less than human, less like them.  This allows them to resolve the cognitive dissidence that they have to grapple with by treating another person badly.

Religion has a very effective way to dehumanize people.  It can claim that the hated group either have no souls, or more commonly, have souls that will be tormented in hell forever.  In this way, they become not so much less human, but less worthy of being treated like humans.  Using religion to dehumanize someone is even more effective than the usual method of just calling someone inhuman.  By claiming that their god has decreed that the hated person(s) are damned, all responsibility for hating, persecuting, hurting, and killing another human begin falls on the god, not his/her/its followers.

It is a very insidious, and very effective, way to justify treating others as less that deserving of the same rights that you have.

Atheists are not technically human beings (they have no soul) therefore they are not protected by our nations laws and bill of rights.

August 23, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Trying Hard, But Failing

I’m trying really hard to write a blog post.  The words are down on the page, the ideas are there, they sentences are coherent, but as they are now, they suck.  So until I can get past this stupid writer’s block, here’s a dinosaur.


August 23, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Science | , | Leave a comment

Adventures In Evolution

The story of Charles Darwin is an amazing one.  Here is a man who was endlessly fascinated with the world around him.  He went from medical student to training for the ministry to the preeminent scientist of his, or any other, age.  

What is lost among all of the retellings of this story is the pure adventure of his life.  Charles Darwin spent five years literally traveling around the world on the HMS Beagle.  He went to places that were, at the time, virtually untouched by humans, and many never seen by Europeans before.  He experienced long ocean voyages (for someone who suffered from sea sickness, not a fun time), earthquakes, storms, wild animals, and primitive (to him) peoples.  Upon his return to England, he went from an obscure naturalist to a well respected one and, after the publication of “On The Origin of Species“, to the most famous scientist in the world.  

It is quite the adventure. It is one that I’m working on bringing to life in a project I’m currently working on.  No release date yet, but I’ll keep you updated.

August 12, 2012 Posted by | Science | , , | Leave a comment

What I Learned In Church Today

I went to church today because my son was in the choir.  I haven’t been to church for a long time, and not a Catholic one for even longer.

Having been raised Catholic, the service itself was familiar enough, even after all these years, that I could ignore it.  The sermon, on the other hand, I listened to intently.  When I used to go to church, even as a kid, I remember always listening to the sermon.  I listened and I thought about what the priest had to say.  Today was no different.

He talked about desire.  There was some very well thought out and interesting points that he made.  He explained how desire run amok can lead to greed and he used the international banking crisis as an example.  I couldn’t agree more.  Here was a perfect example of greed and how it can affect millions.  Here was a very humanistic call for equality and a curb on selfishness and the policies that promote it.  He contrasted that to a desire to do what is right for everyone.

This would have been a perfect sermon, but then, of course, he pushed that aside and said that the real positive role of desire is to know and see God.  Damn!  

This is where myself, and humanists like me, see the great difference between our goals of those of religions.  We seek to promote the positive aspects of humanity, like channeling our desires to do good for, not just ourselves, but others as well.  While most religions do see this as an important task, it is secondary to a desire to please God.  As far as I can see, this is just as selfish as the desire for personal gain.  It is replacing the desire for money and possessions with the desire to gain wealth in an afterlife that may not exist, and which certainly does no one here on earth any good

Now, if desiring to gain points in a possible afterlife leads you to do good here on earth, great, but there is still a selfishness to this that I thin can, and does, lead easily to arrogance.  Many believers use this thought of reward in heaven to make themselves, in their eyes, better than those who either don’t believe as they do or don’t believe at all.  This can easily lead to the extreme of believing, and worse, telling those people that they will burn for eternity in hell.  This dehumanizes those who disagree and breeds hate.

Most humanists, on the other hand, believe in doing good for others simply because it is the right thing to do.  They expect no reward, no glory, just the satisfaction of doing what’s right and helping others.  All without judgment, arrogance, or hate.

August 12, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Perl Help

Does anyone know of any free, online, Perl training?  I’m specifically looking for training that is structured, not just a few examples, or that fancy book learning stuff.  

I’ve coded in shell script for quite a while, but I’m fairly new to Perl.  Considering that I need to maintain perl scripts at my job as a Unix SysAdmin I’ve trying to convince my employer to pay for some online Perl courses by O’Riley, but so far I’ve been told, maybe latter this year.  That was in March and the year is running out quickly.  I really need to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can.  I can read it well enough, but it’s almost. but not quite, unlike shell scripting enough to make coding in it a time consuming chore.

I’ve got personal reasons to want to learn it as well.  I’m writing an adventure novel about Charles Darwin (yes, THAT Charles Darwin) and I really like using iBooks for research because of the iPad’s large screen compared to that of my Kindle Fire’s.  It is easier to make notes in and giving that I have problems with small type, even with my glasses, the larger format is easier on my eyes.

The problem is that iBooks doesn’t have a way to pull those note off as text that I can use to put into Scrivener, the software I use for my larger writing projects.  The Kindle, on the other hand, makes it as easy as going to the My Kindle webpage, showing my highlights, and copying and pasting them.

I found an app that will allow me to access the files on my iPad from my MacBook, but the files are Sqlite DB files, not text.  I’m able to pull data from the databases easily enough using a Bash shell script, but the text of my notes that comes out is pretty ugly as far as formatting goes.  Sure, I could use Sed and Awk in the shell script to format it, but that’s even harder that Perl.  Perl, on the other hand, is literally written for text processing and formatting, hence another big incentive to learn Perl.  In addition to it’s text formatting abilities, Perl had excellent database modules that I can use to get at my notes.

Once I can get a good Perl program written, I plan on using X Code to write a Mac app to pull the data out of the databases on the iPad over either Bluetooth, or my home network, onto my laptop.

So yeah, anyway, I need to learn Perl quickly without having to slog through the O’Riley Perl books.  I have always learned best in a structured environment, so I could really use the help.

If you know of any good, free, online, structured Perl training, I’b be grateful if you send the info for them my way.

August 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

I Got Noticed!

I found a cool pic on FB and shared it there.  I also downloaded it so I could share it here.  I also sent it to PZ Myers because I thought that maybe he could use it for his Anti-Caterday post.  Before I could post it here, PZ actually used it for his Anti-Caterday post!  I know it’s just a little thing, and it isn’t the first time I’ve got a bit of extra traffic my way from a blogger (Skepchick)  who I greatly respect, but it is cool all the same.



August 11, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Skepticism | , , | Leave a comment

Chick-Fil-A, Last Call

The Chick-Fil-A brouhaha had highlighted a real inequality in our society. That inequality is that religious institutions in general, and Christians in particular, feel that they have some special rights that imbue their beliefs with some kind of untouchability. There is an arrogant sense of entitlement that permeates their thinking and ideology which is inherently unjustified and invidious.

For those of you living in a hole for the past few weeks, gay rights groups called for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A because it’s owner said that his company operates by Christian values and one of those values tradition marriage. While he said that Chick-Fil-A does not discriminate against homosexuals in hiring or service to their customers, it believes that homosexuality is wrong and a sin. He was well within his rights to express this view. What he does not have a right to is to expect that others wouldn’t be outraged by his expression of his beliefs.

Unfortunately, other Christians didn’t see it this way. They were outraged that gay rights supporters called for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A. They claimed that it’s freedom of speech was being infringed upon and they called for those who supported Chick-Fil-A, and “traditional marriage” to go eat at Chick-Fil-A.

They seemed to feel that they were entitled to have their beliefs respected, but ignored or disrespected the beliefs of others.

Of course, they did not mention their calls for boycotts of businesses that support gay rights.

One Million Moms organized a Facebook campaign protest this week in response to JC Penney’s decision to hire DeGeneres, who is openly gay.

One Million Moms’ expressed their wrath agaist DC Comics because of their story line for their character, The Green Lantern, who was revealed to be gay. It wasn’t just One Million Moms, Alan Caruba, of Canada Free Press, called for a boycott as well. The same with Marvel Comics for showing a gay wedding. They also called for a boycott of Toys R Us for carrying the comic book.

Christians also called for a boycott of video game maker Electronic Arts, for adding characters in same-sex relationships to its games.

And how can we forget the rainbow Oreo?

Where was the outrage that these businesses were being targeted for boycotts for their stance on gay rights? Where were the supporters of gay rights claiming that these business’ right to freedom of speech was being threatened by the boycotts? Where was the call for those who support gay rights to line up at Toy’s R Us, or JC Penny to show their support for these businesses?

They were nowhere because these business and their supporters know that anyone has a right to call for a boycott of their products if they don’t agree with their stance on gay rights or any other issue. They where nowhere because there isn’t the sense of entitlement that exists within the Christian community that their beliefs should somehow be above reproach and ridicule.

Christians like to claim that there is a war on religion, that their beliefs are being infringed upon by actions like the call for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A. They have the arrogance to believes that they are somehow a persecuted minority.

The fact is that Christians make up something like 70% of the population of the U.S., hardly a minority. Theiy have their prayers recited at public ceremonies across the country, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution; they have their beliefs ingrained in our culture.

Religious establishments have a sense of entitlement in our society that is unwarranted and they get outraged when others insist that they be treated just like anyone else.

As John Stewart said:

“You have confused a war on religion with not always getting everything you want. It’s called being part of a society – not everything goes your way,”

August 4, 2012 Posted by | GLBT, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , , | 2 Comments



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