I’ve come up with a new username for various sites. Currently my username is jwalker1960, which is pretty mundane. I’m going with romanticatheist. Given that, I’m thinking about changing the name of this blog to, you guessed it, “The Romantic Atheist”.
Why? First, “Freethinking for Dummies” is trite and no longer really reflects what I blog about. When I started this blog I discussed different issues relating to skepticism in general, but over time I have been writing more about religion and atheism.
I also happen to be a poet and hopeless romantic. I truly believe in true love, kindness, peace & harmony, and all that other pit-in-the-sky stuff.
Unfortunately, there is already a blog of the same name, but is seems to be just photos mostly unrelated in any way to atheism, no real blogging or discussion of issues, so I think I could be justified in using the same name. What do you think?
The Omaha Coalition of Reason has put up this billboard on 72 St., one of the busiest in Omaha. Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard of the organization before. The have a pretty good list of member groups, only one of which I was anyway involved in (I went to two meetings), Omaha Atheists.
It’s good to learn that there are other secular groups here in town. My wife and I will have to go to some of the activities of these groups and support them in anyway we can. Sure, it is great to blog about secular issues and discuss them on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, but nothing beat good ol’ fashioned face to face interaction.
You should check in your area and see what secular groups are there. Get involved, even if it’s just to donate a little of your time or money.
I saw a picture of this button on DeviantArt. I liked it, but it got me thinking.
Born again Christians use the term “Born Again” to denote their belief that when they accept Jesus as their personal savior they are “born again” in spirit. This phrase and concept is taken from John 3:1-36,
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …
To say, as the button above does, that an atheist is born again once they reject theism is not quite the same thing. It is really more of a reversion.
In Islam, converting to Islam is said to be actually reverting because of the Islamic believe that everyone is born a believer in the one true god, but later is lead astray. Of course, this makes the erroneous (in my view) assumption that there is one true god.
An atheist is someone who does not believe in any god/gods, or any supernatural begins like angels, devils, demons, jinns, etc. So to say that you are a “born again” atheist is about as true statement as you can get since none of us are born with a belief in anything, never mind a god or gods. These beliefs are usually learned or taught to us.
That’s not to say that, left to our own devices we wouldn’t create a god or gods on our own to explain the world around us. This is human psychology and is where religions come from in the first place. We have evolved to see agency (a specific animated cause) in everything around us, perhaps from the survival need to see a predator instead of just a bunch of leaves or grass in the bushes. Sure, we could assume that it is just a random pattern, but if it were a lion, we’d be lunchmeat. Those of our ancestors who assumed that something living was there survived to reproduce and pass on this evolutionary trait.
This need to see agency in the things around us also gave rise to giving agency to things unseen as well. When trying to answer what is basically the meaning of life (which we all know is 42, of course), we naturally assigned agency to explain that as well. A rain god must cause the rain. A wind god must cause the wind. Ditto for all of the other things in nature.
Eventually, logic dictated that the gods must all be ruled by a god of superior power, just as we were ruled by a chieftain or king. As time went on, logic again told us that our entire universe must have come from somewhere and that there had to be something even greater than the existing gods. A creator god was born and eventually, this creator god not only ruled over the other gods, but completely did away for the need for them. Everything could be explained as the actions of this one, all powerful god.
As time went by, our inquiry into the workings nature took on the form of ideas followed by testing. This lead to the scientific method which then lead to amazingly accurate explanations and predictions of the workings of the universe. The forces that controlled nature could now be explained without the need for god or gods. This didn’t preclude the actual existence of them, but eliminated the need for them to explain the things that they had always been needed for.
Once we saw that we could explain nature without having to resort to “god did it”, many of use came to the belief that since there is no need for a god, there probably isn’t a god at all.
The need to explain the world we live in is universal. The need to see agency is deeply ingrained in our brains. This need has driven how we explain our world and has shaped the explanations that all the varied cultures have come up with, leading to all the different gods that have ever been postulated to exist. But the agency we are wired to see doesn’t actually exist. It was evolved to protect us, not to explain anything.
While we are born with this need, we are not born with a belief of any kind. Beliefs are shaped by those around us, by social settings. Most of us accept those beliefs because they are reinforced by our inclination to see agency in non-animate things. Even as children, we try to use reason and logic to make sense of the world around us, but reason is often trumped by socially enforced beliefs. It is extremely difficult to shakes these beliefs, but when we let reason and logic guide us, we can finally let go of these beliefs and are “born again” into the state in which we were first born, a state of not knowing. Then our minds are clear, pure, and ready to find the real answers to the meaning of life.
There is nothing when we die
No hell, no heaven up in the sky.
Dead is dead and this I know
Because the Bible tells me so.
“For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:4-5
I’ve tried to express here on many occasions why I feel that we need to live this life to the fullest and not waste our time expecting any kind of afterlife. I have tried to describe why this is important, but it seemed that my words could just not express the beauty of this life and what we can experience in it.
Fortunately, I’ve found someone who can.
“When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief & precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous — not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous & so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space & the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me & it’s much more meaningful…
The way he treated me & the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other & our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.“
- Ann Druyan, talking about her husband, Carl Sagan
I had an interesting FB conversation with a couple of fundie friends of mine. I had posted a quote to the about the ineffectiveness of prayer. One replied with how she has prayed to God and that because of that she now is with a wonderful man who treats her and her kids great. I responded that I am with a wonderful woman who treats me and my kids great, and I never prayed for anything. The other friend then replied that he had prayed for me, implying that it was his prayers that brought me this wonderful woman.
Believers will ascribe all the wonderful things in their lives to God. The fact that others who don’t believe in God, or in their particular god, also have wonderful things in their lives doesn’t seem to have an explanation within their world view. A rational view of this data would indicate that good things happening are random throughout any given population (as are bad things). Another factor is how specific people view the things that happen to them. What seems a good thing to one person could be considered not to good to another. It is a matter of one’s outlook on life. Is the glass half empty or half full?
For me, knowing that events are basically random makes it easier to deal with bad events because I don’t have to worry if I am pissing off some invisible sky man. Conversely, I also don’t have to waste my time and effort trying to please said sky man or thank him for a random event. I can then focus on how I must deal with things.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel that I’m about due for some good things to happen in my life after all the shit I’ve been through. Some would take this as a sign of karma. Personally, I see it as a sign of the law of averages. Since the past 20 years have pretty much sucked. With all things being equal, the fact that good things are now happening (and I believe, will continue to happen) is pretty much a matter of things averaging out. Regression to the mean. Mathematics and statistics are much better and more consistent at explaining the why good or bad things happen to us than is the idea of some benevolent (or malevolent, depending on how you look at it) god making things happen.
I guess I need to do my homework in the future before I go spouting off. Shame on me.
As most of you who read this blog know, I was at the American Atheists Conference in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend. One of the speakers was Greta Christina, a wonderful blogger, writer, editor, and speaker. She gave an excellent speech titled, Why Are Atheists So Angry, which I wrote about very briefly about in an earlier post. I also recorded her speech and posted the videos which you can fine here.
A friend of mine responded on my Facebook wall to my various post about the conference and asked:
“so why are athiest so angry? please just the headlines”
Unfortunately, I can’t give just the headlines because that would never do justice to the question. I decided to transcribe all the reasons that Greta gave in her speech and publish them here. Please understand that I am not a stenographer, so I may have missed a few words or something here and there, but I think it is pretty accurate overall.
People are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout.
I am angry that atheists get pegged for being angry and confrontational simple for existing and being open about who we are.
I am angry that according to a recent Gallop pool, only 45% of Americans would vote for an atheist president.
I am angry that that is took until 1962 before atheists could serve on juries, testify in court in every state in the country.
I am angry that atheists in the U.S. are frequently denied custody of their children in divorce cases strictly because they are atheists.
I am angry that the Iranian atheists blogger in Iran who said that they have to blog anonymously or they will be executed.
I am angry that that school boards across the country, 80 years after the Scopes trail, have to spend money and resources fighting the drive to teach creationism and ID in schools. This is money that can be spent on making real improvements for our childrens’ education.
I am angry that science teachers in public schools often don’t teach evolution, or only give it a cursory mention even when teaching it is sanctioned nor ever required, because they are afraid of sparking controversy and don’t want to deal with angry fundamentalist parents.
I am angry that women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic Church has taught them that using condoms makes baby Jesus cry.
I am angry that preachers tell the women of their flock to submit to their husbands because it is the will of God even when those husbands are beating them to within an inch of their lives.
I am angry thatt the belief in karma and reincarnation gets use as justification for the caste system in India.
I am angry that people bon into poverty and despair are taught that it’s their fault, that they must have done something bad in a previous life and that the misery they are born into is their punishment for that.
I am angry that people in Africa are being terrorized, driven from their homes, tortured, and killed over accusations of witchcraft; not in the middle ages, not in the 1600s, this is happening now, today, as we speak.
I am angry that so many parents and religious leaders terrorize children who:
a) have brains that are hard-wired to trust adults and believe what they are told.
b) are very literal minded.
are told stories of eternal burring and torture to insure that they will be too frightened to ever question religion.
I am angry that children are taught by religions to hate their bodies and their sexuality.
I am angry that female children get taught to hate and fear their femaleness, and that queer children get taught to hate and fear their queerness.
I am angry that in fundamentalist, Mormon, polygamous cults, girls are raised from birth to believe that they will be tortured and burned in hell if they don’t marry whatever man they are told to marry by their preacher, in most cases when they are teenagers, and in some cases when they are as young as 13, and in some cases younger than that.
I am angry that in the non-fundamentalist, non-polygamous entirely mainstream Mormon Church girls are raised from birth to believe that they will be tortured and burned in hell if they don’t marry, have lots of children, and be submissive to their husbands.
I am angry that gay kids are raised from birth that they will be tortured and burned in hell if they don’t deny and suppress their sexuality.
I am angry that in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40% of all homeless teenagers are gay because they have be kicked out of their house by their Mormon families. Yeah, let’s hear it for family values.
I’m angry about the Muslim girl in the public school, who was told in the public school by her public school, taxpayer paid teacher, in the United States, in the classroom, that the red stripes on Christmas candy canes represented Christ’s blood, that she had to believe in him and be saved by Jesus Christ, or she would be condemned to hell and that if she didn’t there would be no place for her in his classroom.
I’m angry at the Sunday school teacher who told comic artist Craig Thompson that he could draw in heaven, and that she said this with the complete conviction of authority when, in fact, she had no basis whatsoever for that assertion. How did she know that, as she asserted, that you could sing in heaven, but that you couldn’t draw?
I am enraged at priests who rape children and tell them that it’s God’s will.
I’m angry at the Catholic Church who consciously, deliberately, and repeatedly, for years, acted to protect these priests who raped children, and literally acted to keep it a secret. I’m angry that they placed the Catholic Church’s reputation as a higher priority that children not being raped.
That the Catholic Church is now trying to argue in court that protecting child raping priests from prosecution and the shuffling of them from diocese to diocese so that they could continue raping children in new diocese and keep hidden from view, is constitutionally protected freedom of religion.
I’m angry about 9/11. That after 9/11 happened that people of Middle Eastern decent were attacked and their businesses vandalized, because the were Muslims, or because people assumed that they were Muslims even if they weren’t because they blamed all Muslims for the attacks.
I’m angry that Jerry Farwell blamed 9/11 on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU, and People For The American Way.
I’m angry that this theology of an angry, wrathful god exacting revenge against pagans and abortionists by sending radical Muslims to blow up buildings secretaries and investment bankers. I’m angry that this was a theology held by a powerful widely respected religious leader with million of followers.
I’m angry that little girls are getting their clitorises cut off because their parents’ religion teaches that it is necessary.
I’m angry that many people try to defend religion against the charge of female genital mutilation by saying, “Oh, that’s not what the religion really teaches if you look at the religions text, etc.” The fact is that Islamic religion, as it is actually widely believed and practiced; and not just Islam, but other religions in the region as they are actually believed and practiced teach that little girls need to have their clitorises cut off. And it enrages me that so many people defend the religion and not the children.
I’m angry about honor killings.
I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies, women who have sex outside marriage, women who date outside their religion, women who spend time with male friends, woman who disobey their male relatives are executed.
I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies that even women who have been raped and be, and are, exacted for the crime of adultery. I’m angry that the ones who only get imprisoned and beaten are the ones who get off lucky.
I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies, girls as young as nine years old can be married against their will.
I’m angry that when a nine year old girl in Brazil was raped, the doctors who preformed an abortion on her and the family who approved the abortion were excommunicated. And I’m angry that there was no excommunication for the man who raped her.
I’m angry that in 13 states in the United States, child care centers operated by religious organizations don’t have to adhere to basic standards of health and safety and don’t even have to be licensed. I’m angry that children in these child care centers have been harmed and have even died because of poor on nonexistent staff training and grossly unsafe conditions, and that the operators are immune from prosecution.
I’m angry that seriously ill children needlessly suffer and die because their parents believe in faith healing and believe that medicine treatment will anger their god. And I’m angry that in 39 states in the United States these parents are protected from prosecution for child neglect.
I’m angry about what happened to Galileo, still. And that it took until 1992 to apologize for it.
I’m angry that what happened to Galileo is, relatively speaking, a walk in the park. I’m angry that astronomer Giodarno Bruno was burned at the stake for, among other things, advocating that the sun was one star among many.
I get angry when advice columnist tell their troubled letter writers to talk to their priest or minister or rabbi where there is absolutely no legal requirement that the religious leader have any professional training in counseling, and that the advice they offer isn’t based on any evidence about what does and doesn’t work in people’s lives, but is based purely on what their religious doctrine tells them God wants.
I get angry when religious leaders opportunistically use religion, and people’s trust and faith in religion, to steal, cheat, lie, manipulate the political process, take sexual advantage of their followers and, generally speaking, behave like the scum of the earth. I get angry when it happens over, and over, and over again. I get angry at the fact that we open up the newspaper and see the headline, “Religious leader behaves like the scum of the earth.”, that we all shrug and say, “Oh, what, that again? It must be wednesday.”
I get angry when people see this happening and and still say that atheism is bad because without religion, people would have no basis for morality or ethics, they can just do whatever they want.
I’m angry that when my dad had a stroke and went into a nursing home, the staff asked my brother on intake, “Is he Baptist or Catholic?”. And I’m not just angry on behalf of my atheist dad, but I’m angry on behalf of all the Jews and the Buddhists and the Muslims and the Neo-pagans and the Hindus who’s families were almost certainly asked that same question.
I get angry when religious believers make arguments against atheism, and make accusations against atheists, without having bothered to talk to any atheists, or read any atheist writing. I get angry when they trot out the same old “atheism is a nihilistic philosophy with no joy or meaning, and no basis for morality or ethics, when if they spent 10 minutes in the atheist blogosphere…they would discover countless atheists who experience great joy and meaning in their life, and are intensely concerned with right and wrong.
I get angry when believer say that the entire, unimaginable hugeness of the universe was made solely and specifically for human begins, when atheists say that humanity is pretty much an infinitesimal eye-blink in the vastness of time and space, and then they accuse atheists of being arrogant.
I get angry when believer argue against atheists by saying that we are intolerant or mean, we’re superior, we’re whinny, and we are, yes, angry, without actually making an argument for why we’re wrong and they’re right.
I’m angry that I have to know more about their religion then they do. They say things about the text and tenants of their religion that are flatly untrue and I have to correct them on it.
I get angry when believer consider any criticism of their religion, i.e. pointing out that their religion is a hypothesis about the world that has to stand up on it’s own in the market place of ideas, as insulting and bigoted.
I get angry when believer accuse atheists of being intolerant for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you”, or “I think you’re mistaken about that”, and “What evidence do you have to support that position?”.
I get angry when believers respond to some, or all, of this litany of offenses by saying, “Oh well, that’s not the true faith.” “Hating queers, rejecting science, and stifling questions of dissent, and cutting off people clitorises and so on, that’s not the true faith. People who do that, they’re not real Christians, they’re not real Jews, they’re not real Muslims”. As if they had a pipeline to God. As if they had any reason at all to be sure what God wants and they know what true Christianity is, and the billions of others who agree with them have clearly got it wrong.