Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Be Good For Goodness Sake

Religious belief, I feel, is an inherently selfish thing. You are lead to believe that if you do good things you will go to heaven. Do what God wants you to and you will be rewarded, either in this life, the next life, or both.

The end result of all this is that the impetus to behave well, to do good things for others, is driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?”. Of course, most people don’t think of it this way. They think that if they help with a food drive, or work in a soup kitchen, God will reward them. They are racking up points in heaven. But really, when you get right down to it, the real reason they do these things is because they are expecting a reward.

This isn’t to say that they aren’t religious people who don’t do good things just because they feel it is the right thing to do, of course there are. I would bet, however, if you asked most believers why it is important to help the poor or tend to the sick, they will say something to the effect that it is because the Bible tells them to, or it is what God wants. I doubt you will hear many give the simple reason, “because”.

From a humanist point of view, we do good things “just because”. Just because it is the right thing to do. No one tells us to do good things. We aren’t expecting any reward except, perhaps. the reward of feeling good about doing good.

I find it interesting that of all the Christmas carols that I can think of, it is a secular one that gets at the heart of why we should do good and be good: for goodness sake.

As a humanist, I am motivated to help others because I feel empathy. I see someone in need and I feel their pain, as the saying goes.

Religious believers have empathy too, certainly. Because the motivation to help others, for them, is reward based however, I wonder if the emotional connection, the empathy, is somehow lessened. When I see people who can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but then call all welfare or Medicaid recipients moochers I have to wonder how they can justify that stance. I think it is because they feel that they have done their bit of good by volunteering, but there is no emotional connection, no real empathy, for the people who they are serving. They aren’t being good for goodness sake, they are being good because that’s what is expected or required. In their eyes they did their good deed and will get their reward, but poor who they fed don’t really exist at all for them, they are just part of the scenery.

Some people will say that it doesn’t matter why people do good, as long as they do something to help others. I disagree.

We have a huge issue in this country today where there are millions of people who are living at or below the poverty line and there is a large group of Americans who honestly believe that these people deserve it. They don’t connect these millions of people with the dozens or hundreds they see at their soup kitchens. I suspect that part of the reason is that they haven’t made an emotional connection with these people because instead of doing good just for the sake of goodness, they are doing good in expectation of a reward. They don’t make the emotional connection that they might otherwise make because doing good isn’t about the other guy, it’s about them.

When there is no idea of reward, we do good because it is the right thing to do.

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , | 2 Comments

An Atheist Monument Being Unveiled Next to The Ten Commandments is Nothing to Celebrate

An article in the Washington Post reports on the new monument that has been installed next to one of the Ten Commandments outside a Florida courthouse.

Atheists had sued to remove the Ten Commandments monument because it violates the the Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.  An agreement was reached that, instead of removing the monument, atheists would be able to erect their own monument on public property next to it.

The monument that the atheists erected contain quotes by various founding fathers that are much more apt for a courthouse than the Ten Commandments, almost half of which apply to how God should be worshiped and have no bearing on U.S. Law.  

While I support displaying monuments to our founding fathers and quotes from them that support actual U.S. legal principles, I have serious reservations about how this particular case played out.

Allowing a secular monument on public land, of course, does not violate the Establishment clause, but doing so in this case inextricably links the secular monument with that of the Ten Commandments.  In essence, it gives validity to the idea that it is OK to allow a religious monument on public property.   By agreeing to erect a secular monument next to a religious one, these atheists have legitimized the display of religious symbols on public property.

We have secular monument aplenty across our land.  The Jefferson and Lincoln monuments come to mind.  This is how it should be.  Our legal system is founded upon the U.S. Constitution, a document that never once mentions God, and even explicitly forbids the government showing preference for any religion.  

We don’t need the condecending permission of religious minded judges or politicians to allow us to erect a monument to those who founded our country.   By accepting this settlement, atheists essentially allowed the religious crowd, who erected their monument in violation of the laws of this land, to give them something that was theirs by default.  

This is not a win for atheists.  By agreeing to allow an obviously illegal monument to stand, they have legitimized those who seek to push their religious agenda into our government at every level, and thereby made it a win for the enemies of secularism.

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , | 1 Comment

Help For People Recovering From Religion

The organization Recovering From Religion has started a hotline for those who are recovering from religion.  This is in response to all of the “…countless emails and phone calls from people seeking help on their journey away from faith, at all hours of the day and night”.

If you are recovering or have recovered from religion, you know how terribly painful a process this can be.  Not only are you abandoning a life-long set of beliefs, but you face ostracization from friend, family, and co-workers.  You also live with the fear of the negative reactions you may receive when people find out you are an atheist.  

I have applied to answer the Hotline and to help out with their Facebook page.   If you are recovering from religion, or are an life-long atheists, and want to help, go and apply.  It is a great cause that will help the millions who are struggling with losing their religion.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism, Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

My Response to the CFI’s Response to the Skeptical Community’s Response to Ron Lindsay’s Opening Statement at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

I’ve been out of action here for quite a while due to work and family and just life in general.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in the skeptical and atheist communities.  There has been a lot going on there, but it took something unbelievably appalling and rage inducing to motivate me to start writing again.

As you can see by the title of this posts,  something happened at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference.  Something so unthinkably insensitive you would have thought it was said by one of the disgusting Republican, Tea Party loving, rape apologists.  But, no.  sadly , it was said by the leader of one of the leading and most influential secular groups in America; the Center for Inquiry, or CFI.

I won’t get into the particulars.  If you haven’t heard about it, you can read the outrage from different individuals here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  The CFI response to all this outrage can be found here.  

My personal response, which I’ve emailed to the CFI Board of Directors is below.

June 22, 2013

To Tom Flynn & the CFI Board of Directors

Dear Mr. Flynn and CFI Board members,

I am writing today to express my outrage at your response to the outcry caused by Ron Lindsay’s opening statement at the Women in Secularism 2 conference.  

You have shown that you are either incapable, or unwilling, to take an definitive stand on sexism in the Skeptical community.   Your official statement regarding this issue, far from helping to quell the protests, only exacerbated the situation.  

Your refusal to issue an apology, either as an organization, or though Ron Lindsay personally, is a disgrace.   Your insipid claim to value equality in the community is woefully inadequate at best, and pretentiously self-serving at worse.

Over the past year or so, sexism has become possiblty the most important and divisive issue in the Skeptical community.  The examples of blatant misogyny and raw hatred by  a relatively small number of members of the community toward anyone who dares support feminism and women’s right are disgusting, abhorrent, and almost too numerous to count.  They include vile insults, threats of rape, and even death threats against those, mostly woman, who speak out against them.

By refusing to take a stand against these misogynistic, hate-spewing members of our community, you only encourage, enable, and by your silence, tacitly accept their continued hatred and harassment of those who work tirelessly towards equality for all in our community.

I can no longer support the CFI, given it’s stance regarding sexism within our community.  I will no longer be donating to your organization, and this includes renewing my subscription to Skeptical Inquirer magazine.  This last honestly pains me because not only do I feel that it is the best skeptical magazine tin existence, but having been published in it, I can no longer in good conscience submit my work to be published there.

I fervently hope that the leadership of CFI will take an unambiguous public stand in support of ridding our community of sexism, misogyny, and hatred.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I feel sums up my feelings toward the current state of the CFI leadership.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham jail” he said:  “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Sincerely,

James Walker


If this issue upsets you as much as it does me, please do something about it.  At the very least, let the CFI know how you feel.  You can email them, as I did, at tflynn@centerforinquiry.net, or snail mail them at:


Center for Inquiry Transnational
P.O. Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226


Do something!  Don’t let your “appalling silence” allow the injustice to continue.

June 22, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Not Broken

I read a lovely blog post.  It is about people with disabilities.  Please read it.

My comment on this:

I grew up with a learning disability.  I was teased, bullied.  But I’ve succeeded beyond what any of those people who made fun of me, or even most of the teachers and guidance counselors could.  My son has autism spectrum disorder.  Family, friends, strangers in the supermarket, all would try to tell me how to handle him, how to raise him, how to “fix” him.  He is not “broken”.  He never was.  He is his own person.  He is my son.  

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Be Good For Goodness’ Sake

Telling someone that they shouldn’t steal or murder or rape because if they get caught they will go to prison is not teaching morality.  Similarly, telling someone that they shouldn’t engage in these same types of behaviors because the will got to hell is not teaching morality either.  What it is doing is teaching that these behaviors are bad, not because the are intrinsically immoral, but because there is the risk of negative consequences.

This type of thinking ignores the real effect of immoral actions: that they harm others.  That crime, deceit, and violence robs a person of a part of their humanity.  It attacks one of the greatest truths ever put forth by the human mind:  that we all are created equal, that we “are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1)

True morals should be based on this principle.  They should also be based on empathy and love for our fellow Homo sapiens who we share out planet with.  By holding up threats of punishment, either in this life or a mythical one beyond it, we dehumanize each other and desensitize ourselves to the humanity within others.  

This mindset can lead to disdain of those who are seen as violating some peoples’ personal or religious morals, many of which are inhumane, insensitive, and inhumane.  

The same holds for being moral and doing good deeds for others because we empathize with their plight.  We should do kind things not expecting anything in return, but because it is intrinsically the right thing to do.  To only do good, be it giving to charity, doing a favor for a friend, or giving a blanket to a cold homeless person just because we expect a reward in heaven or to boost our status within our social circles reeks of  callousness.  These types of people do good not because it is the right thing to do, but because they are greedy for reward.  When they give to charity, help at soup kitchens, they are often thinking not of those who benefit from their deeds, but of the benefit to their social status and/or their eternal reward.

Santa Clause, that fictional character of Christmas cheer, summed up the true basis of morality:  be good for goodness’ sake.

 

(1) The Declaration of Independence

are created equal, that they are endowed

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Newtown School Shootings – When There Are No Reasons

After the horrifying shootings at the Newtown, CT school, Bryan Fisher, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association proposed that God could have stopped the shootings, but didn’t because apparently it was God’s way of saying:

“Hey, I’d be glad to protect your children, but you have to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”

A Gentleman?! Fisher’s “gentleman” god sounds more like a child throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get what he wants. A gentleman doesn’t sit by while 20 children are killed in cold blood just because he wasn’t picked for the team on the playground. I will tell you who does act like this: a coward; a sociopath; a sick and twisted, sadist.

Fisher’s god is an iniquitous and malefic thug. A god who can stand by and allow 20 innocent children be massacred is not a god worthy of praise or worth following. If such a god does exist and wishes me to believe, never mind support, that the innocent must die for the sins of the guilty, then I will proudly stand before him and tell him to kiss my ass and to send me to hell. I’d rather spend an eternity in hell than give the slightest support to such a evil creature. I thought that Jesus was the innocent one who was supposed to died for all of our sins, or did he just not get it right and now God feels that he must allow tiny children to die instead in order to pay for the supposed ills of our society? Where does God’s mercy and forgiveness come into all this? Apparently it doesn’t.

The fact is that 20 innocent children and 7 adults are dead. They aren’t dead because God is punishing us. They aren’t gone forever because of homosexuality, secularism, evolution being taught in our schools, or Obambacare. There is only one reason that they are dead: because a man walked into to the school and shot them. Period.

I’m not going to try to make this a sermon about gun control, or better access to mental health care, or any other political or social issue. That is something that we, as a society, must decide to do something about (or, as is often the case, do nothing).

We like to try to place blame when terrible things happen to us. We can’t stand the thought that something so horrific could happen for no reason as all. The reality is that nature doesn’t care and the universe doesn’t care. They just are. We, on the other hand, can and do care. Instead of seeking a reason beyond the the simple one stated above, we need to care for each other, help each other, and most importantly, cherish each other, every moment of every day. We must stop worrying about what comes after this life and focus on living each day as if it were our last, because, as we’ve been seeing far to often lately, life can be taken from us in the blink of an eye.

December 15, 2012 Posted by | Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Atheism+. Why I Am More Resolved Than Before To Support It

Jen McCreight quit blogging yesterday.  This from Almost Diamonds who wrote a post explaining some of the reason why.

I’m angry that Jen has been pushed to the point where she has to stop blogging.  She’s done so much, especially with the SSA, to help advance atheism.  The detractors say that those who support Atheism+ are trying to take over the atheist movement, that we are being hateful and divisive, that we are not thinking critically and are letting our emotions cloud our judgement.  

Of course it is emotional.  We are enraged and appalled at the misogyny that has become so apparent in the past year.  We aren’t automatons, but human.  Using our anger at the misogynists and others like them in the atheists movement to try to build something better is good, as Greta Christian says in her book.  

Anger can motivate people to right wrongs and gain rights and recognition in society.  We want to be seen as atheists who do more than just attack religion.  We want to take this movement to the masses, as it were, beyond the atheist community, by working openly, and publicly on important social issues that, until now, religion or other organizations have owned.  At least, that’s what I would like to see.  I think many who support Atheism+ feel this way too.

The people who drove Jen away want to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  It can’t, and won’t, stand.  But, I’m not going to attack those people, I’m going to ignore them.  They aren’t worth my time.  Instead, I’m going to do something positive and try to make Atheism+ a thing that will unite all those atheists who want to focus on social issues instead of just bashing religion and slapping ourselves on the backs for how much more clever we are than theists.  

September 5, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Horrors Of Salvation – Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the horror behind the story of Noah.   I had considered expanding on the concept horror embodied in the idea of sacrifice found in the Bible by also talking about the who Jesus story, but decided to just keep it simple and stick to Noah.  I saw a comment on the Noah post that made me wish I had talked about Jesus.

 

It’s sad to hear that this is what the message of Christianity is becoming about. Dead religion will tell you one of two things about God…(1) He’s schizophrenic (He loves you but He hates you) or (2) He’s mysterious (nobody can figure Him out). But here is Jesus, who arrives later on as the Messiah. It is in Christ where God’s nature is revealed, and He is a God of Love.

Things may still be unclear about the Bible and there seems to be a lot of contradictions on God’s nature. But, the Cross made a significance, a proof, to how much God loves us (John 3:16). Hope that helps! 

Comment by tacticianjenro | September 2, 2012 | Reply

 

His argument is one made by many Christians to negate the nastiness of the Old Testament: that God suddenly became a merciful and loving god once he sent Jesus (or became Jesus, the Bible is a bit confusing on that point) to save us all.

 

Even if you grant that this argument is valid, the whole idea of sacrificing someone, someone who is supposedly innocent, is just as horrible and depraved as anything in the Old Testament.  Sure, it’s just one guy, not every person on earth, but the number of those sacrificed isn’t the issue.  The issue is the need for a blood sacrifice at all.  

 

I was raised Catholic.  I could never understand why God required a sacrifice to free us from sin.  If he is all powerful, why not just forgive our sins and be done with it?  The priests explained to me about Original Sin.  That didn’t make any sense to me either.  Why would God punish every human who ever lived just because the first two people sinned?  Why not just forgive Adam and Eve their sins?  Or if He couldn’t find it in his all loving heart to do that, why not just strike them both dead and be done with it?  He’s God.  He could just make more.

 

The idea that Jesus, the only son of God, the innocent lamb, had to die just because the rest of us were sinning bastards is insane.  That isn’t love, it is sadistic and cruel.  Worse, it is pointless.  If God is all powerful, then either forgive each of us our sins or smote us, don’t go killing your only son, especially when he doesn’t deserve it.

The idea that the god of the New Testament is now a loving, merciful god as opposed to the angry, vengful god of the Old Testament; that he is somehow a new and improved god, is absurd.  The sacrifice of Jesus is no different than asking Abraham to kill his son, or the killing of all the first born of Egypt.  It is just as cruel, just as horrible and depraved.  

The fact is, God, both the old and new versions, is a dick, pure and simple.  

 

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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