Sunday, March 29, 2009

What'd Jew Do This Weekend?

My fiancé and I have had nothing but awkward resistance from her family regarding the wedding. The older of her two younger brothers is coming, but her younger brother and parents are being sent an invitation anyway. Maybe she sees it as passive-aggressive; I think it’s a waste of a stamp. As with all disagreements, we did what she wanted.

Whether it was a nice gesture or a back-handed swipe, she seems to be trying to stay on their good side. One of her cousins is getting married today, and she was invited. I was not. She thought I would be insulted. I’m just glad I don’t have to go and wear a kippah.

That whole thing is a major sore spot with me. I don’t like impositions. I hate uniforms and dress codes. I believe people should be allowed to pre-judge you based on what you wear, but people should think before assuming the appearance of something implies the it is a reality. Remember, all the guys who ran this country into the ground over the last eight years wore suits.

So what’s the deal with making me wear a Jew-niform just to sit through a boring spiel? I’m already sitting through a ceremony that’s in a foreign language I don’t understand, how uncomfortable are you trying to make me feel?

I once went to some sort of dinner that was days after the wedding of one of my fiancé’s friend. It has some Hebrew name, and she’s not here to tell me what it is. So besides feeling completely uncomfortable, the food was unpalatable. I had some salad and bites of everything else. Then we had bread made from blond children (or so I hear).

Afterwards, she pointed out I was the only one without a kippah (that’s a yarmulke to most Gentiles). I hadn’t noticed, but apparently those who know to look probably did. It’s a very strange exclusionary practice. I for one have a full head of hair (perhaps my one good physical feature). I certainly don’t need a bald-spot cover.

So she’s gone to the “lion’s den,” although I’m only worried about her drive to Brooklyn… and being the only one to walk the dog tonight.

Above Criticism

The UN Human Rights Council has voted to adopt a text proposed by Pakistan that makes defamation of religion a human rights violation. Apparently the term "human rights" does not translate well into Arabic, as this resolution does not protect the rights of human beings, just religious ideas. The measure was pushed through by Muslim nations who seek to leverage the rule against those who would criticize their religion, and by extension their theocracy.

"Defamation of religious [sic] is a serious affront to human dignity leading to a restriction on the freedom of their adherents and incitement to religious violence." Actually, reacting to criticism everyone else endures by moving to prevent people from ever questioning you is "restriction of freedom." As for "incitement to religious violence," that's a problem originating with the religious, not the critics.

This is largely a reaction to the Mohammed cartoons and the controversy they caused. Apparently the Muslim world is upset that they can't kill people who criticize Islam if they do it from free land. This measure seeks to put religion above reproach, outside of the realm of what can be discussed critically.

I doubt these measures will lead to any action, but they are an indicator of one major flaw of fundamentalism: the inability to take a joke.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Wedding

It occurred to me that blogs are usually a catalogue of people's every day, mundane activity. This is why I hate reading most blogs and stopped blogging after the first three times I tried. If there's one thing worse than hearing about someone's boring, routine life, it's being reminded of my own boring, routine life. However, people don't just get married every day, so I thought I'd post about my upcoming wedding in May.

I met her through an online dating service that asks a bunch of questions and matches you up. It was not eHarmony, or any other pay site. It was a free one, so obviously we're both cheap. We had that in common from the start.

When we first met up, we had a good time and just kept hanging out, closer and closer together each date (both in time apart and proximity in space). Pretty soon I made my move. "Wanna hang out in bed?" I asked on the *censored for decency*th date. Like a lady, she said "sure."

She pretty much didn't leave my apartment for several months except to go to class and go out with me to get groceries. We talked about moving in together after a couple months, but we decided to wait until we'd been together a year... so we didn't look crazy.

We've been together over two years now and we're getting married in two months. I owned one cat before meeting her and she owned two. I rescued a fourth cat off the street when we still had separate residences, but we found him a home through Craigslist after it became clear that four cats and my feline allergy would not be realistic for our move in together.

We moved in last spring. By the summer, I went with her to a music festival. I can't stand the things, but I figure a weekend here or there each year is a whole lot less to sit through than church on a weekly basis. It's comparable to the less rigorous "Christmas/Easter" Christians. I don't care how anyone practices their faith, so long as it doesn't impose upon me (and I don't find parades or nativity scenes imposing, just kind of gay).

I feel bad, making fun of homosexuals in a piece about weddings. I wasn't trying to spit on anyone while they were down. I didn't mean it to insult gay people, just religious people (you know, since they would hate being gay). Oy...

So these music festivals... they're kind of like Vegas. What happens at music festivals stays at music festivals. It's nothing secretive, it's just that for some reason no one remembers a damn thing from the whole weekend… except for me. I remember things... horrible things...

Drum circles so big you can't see the other side. People tripping on acid mushrooms talking about elves darting through crowds of sheeople (that's people who look like sheep). Everyone is bright red from passing out in the noon sun, and they dance like Dionysian devils in the fire light, under a dark new moon by night. I may not believe in the gods, but I almost believe in demons after this.

I kid. It was mostly just sitting around, being unreachable outside cell phone range, while you sipped drinks and listened to awful jazz and funk musicians practice scales and arpeggios for hours on end.

My biggest true complaints were 1. the prevalence of vegetarian food to the exclusion of meat, and 2. the fact that people didn’t go to sleep until very late. I hate to be a bitch about going to bed early, it’s just a pain to sleep in a tent in the summer sun. I can’t sleep past nine in the summer. I don’t drink, so I’m not passed out; I’m actually conscious and having to make an effort to sleep.

My ability to tolerate a music festival cemented her love for me. We arranged to get married and set a tentative early summer date. We made the long drive from Pennsylvania to Indiana, where my parents live. We told them the good news. My mom’s reaction (looking straight at my fiancé): “Are you sure you want to marry him?” Priceless.

Things didn’t go so well with telling her parents. For one thing, I had (and still have) yet to meet her parents. This is by no fault of our own. Her parents simply aren’t interested in meeting her goyfriend turned fiancé. Something about demanding she inbreed, I can’t even pretend to understand it. Maybe it’s best he only uses his limited imagination, I might surpass that.

So she told them by phone from my parents’ house. They weren’t too thrilled. Letters began pouring in from people she barely knows. Long-lost cousins dropped in from out of town to nervously change the subject as I came in the room. It didn’t occur to me until now, but someone who didn’t love the person they were with so much might have been scared off by some of this. It just gives us a good laugh.

One night, my fiancé gets a call from one of her brothers. The half of the conversation I hear sounds like the brother has something important and that she needs to go somewhere private. Bastard knows I’m listening! Tricky!

I hear laughing and she comes back in to explain. Her brother informed her that he consulted a rabbi in Israel about our situation (as he was in Israel at the time… so this is a trans-Atlantic phone call...) who said that one of three things would happen: either I would convert to Judaism, we would break up within a year, or (this one’s my favorite) I would die. It’s Jewish Voodoo: Voojew.

Giving the curse the full benefit of the doubt, we look forward to celebrating our first year anniversary, even if she continues to beat me mercilessly. Not the face!

Obviously we aren’t having a lot of religion in our wedding. As it turns out, that leaves very little to the wedding besides the declaration and eating. I never liked the other stuff anyway. There will be no officiant, as Pennsylvania allows for self-uniting marriage (thank you Quakers). It will be just me, her, our closest friends and family in the great outdoors, surrounded by food. I even weaseled my way out of having to wear a tux.

As the date gets closer, things supposedly get more stressful. I don’t know, everything has gone smoothly and continues to fall into place. She has done a great job doing most of the planning and organizing for the wedding herself, and I’m eternally grateful that she doesn’t look down on me for every stupid attempt I make at helping.

I wish the wedding was over and done with. I look forward to marriage. The act is largely legal for me, as the symbolism is completely lost upon me. I would do anything for my fiancé, wedding or not. I don’t need a ring around my finger to remain faithful and loyal. She’s been the only woman I want to be with since the first time I told her I loved her, and as far as I’m concerned, everything else is just for show. The world wants a show, and she doesn’t mind giving them one, so wedding: here we come.

Politics, and Why I Hate It

I used to be quite interested in politics, and my opinions on it were as passionate as my feelings for religion. However, the 2008 presidential race turned me off to politics.

I have tried to pretend to be a Democrat, but like being religious, the tag just doesn't fit. I'm very clearly not a Republican, since I don't think the world would be a better place just by preventing gays from marrying and women from planning when they have a baby. However, the issues which are important to me are largely ignored by the general population. Worse yet, no political party sides with me on any of my most important issues.

If you want to limit government influence, you have no one to vote for. If you think churches should be taxed, you have no one to vote for. If you oppose funding the wars of foreign nations, you have no one to vote for. If you think the second amendment is an outdated rule from the era of single-shot muskets, you have no one to vote for. If you oppose the war on drugs, want to lower the drinking age, or think cigarette taxes are too high, you have no one to vote for. I'll get to Libertarians in a minute.

Republicans in particular voice their agreement with me on some issues, but their track record in the White House under Reagan and both Bushes has proven that it's all talk meant to garner the vote of people like me (angry men who don't want to be bothered). Republicans love to court the vote of "Libertarians" by making empty promises of smaller government and low taxes. Of course, Libertarian is just what young Republicans call themselves because it's so embarrassing to admit you voted for Bush or McCain.

If you vote Republican, the only things you will end up supporting are socially restrictive policies meant to intrude on private citizens and their rights. Republicans attack liberty at every turn, from the PATRIOT Act to bans on gay marriage and abortion. There's nothing Libertarian about the Republicans besides the horrendous tax policy shared by the two, a tax policy which only serves to create a massive gap in wealth between the rich and middle class.

Eisenhower, the last great Republican president, had it right when he signed off on a 90% tax for the wealthiest earners. This tax carried America through it's most prosperous years, enabling us to grow and build our infrastructure to what we have today.

Republicans and Libertarians would have us believe that the government screws up everything, but the truth is that government is only inefficient when Republicans are running it. The highway system, NASA's trips to the moon, the Postal System, parks, police, firemen, etc. are all "socialized." Republicans can't even say the words "our military" without immediately following it with some variant of the phrase, "which is the best in the world." So if socialism is good enough for the best military in the world... why not other things that benefit every citizen?

Democrats, on the other hand, are more open to the ideas I support... but they're also open to some I oppose as strongly as I would if they were Republican. PETA, Green Peace, censorship, media scapegoating, and countless other types of legislation which I would characterize as "Mommy Laws" all serve only to intrude on the choices of Americans. We don't need anything safer "for the kids." Fuck the kids, and fuck their lazy parents who don't bother raising them.

So if it's between Femacrats and Retardicans, I get bored. I think that's why I like discussing religion: there's more than two sides. The false dichotomy presented by American politics is dwarfed in intellectual size by the plurality of religious debate.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Traffic and Philosophy

Often, the case is made that the modern world is more fragmented and alienating that previous periods. On the contrary, I would argue that, while perhaps physically alienating, human beings are working together in a manner never before imaginable. For one thing, the internet simultaneously makes its user anonymous and connected to numerous others. They all enjoy an element of privacy that enables many to lower, or even completely shrug off, their inhibitions. It may be this sordid view of humanity that people don’t truly like: a simple, reptilian brain that still functions beneath the deep recesses of the complex cerebrum in all of us.

My favorite example of the modern dichotomy of anonymity and interconnectedness is traffic. Imagine the complexity of it all: the multitude of human beings sitting behind a large engine within which numerous tiny explosions are being converted into the power to reach speeds often exceeding seventy miles per hours, faster than any other land animal on earth. With the use of a modest system of signs and lights, hundreds of thousands of people pass daily with little effort over distances greater than many people two-hundred years ago would venture in a lifetime.

Traffic, with its thankless courtesies and required patience, might seem an impossible feat to someone who has never seen it. Philosophers for millennia have debated the capabilities of the average human being. Traffic appears to disprove the pessimists who would say that most people are incapable of… did you see that? He just cut me off! I’m gonna speed up and pass HIM, then slow down and see if he likes it. Oh what the fuck, let me in you faggoty ass semi. Goddamn butt-fucking truckers, I swear to God; they can all just eat my ass raw. Jesus Fucking Christ! What’s this asshole doing? GET OFF THE PHONE YOU JACKASS! Ahem, sorry.

Shit, what is the hold up here, why are we stopped? Looks like some kind of accident… God I wish they’d just scoop up the wreckage, corpses and all, with a snow plow and go sort it out someplace else. This is fucking ridiculous. I knew I should have taken the surface roads.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fun With Language: Atheism vs atheism

I have been challenged that atheism and Atheism cannot be different things simply because of capitalization. A poster in the comments of one of Uruk’s posts claimed “what I do call nonsense is the idea that a definition changes simply because you capitalize a letter in the word. Atheist will always mean the same thing, whether it is a big A or a little a - and it does not mean the same thing as agnostic (big A or little a).”

I will refute your claim in two parts. The first part is easy. You must not be familiar with English if you don’t understand that capitalization makes a huge difference in a word. The word God, for example, refers to the monotheistic deity followed by English-speaking Christians (and sometimes Jews and Muslims, though they have their own terminology which is borrowed from Hebrew and Arabic, respectively). The word god or gods refers to the basic idea of deities, and may refer to any divine beings from any of a number of religions.

But I’m not done there. I was so intrigued by the ignorance of this statement, I went on a quest to discover as many as I could. Many names have this trait. For example, Rich and Dick are both short for Richard, whereas rich and dick are synonyms for Republican. 10,000 Maniacs is a band, whereas 10,000 maniacs would be a Republican convention.

There’s Earth, which is the name of the planet we inhabit, while earth is soil. The next one is in the form of two example sentences: “The Irish march through the streets in March for St. Patrick’s Day. The gays may have a parade in May.”

A Pole is someone from Poland, while a pole is something strippers dance around. If you fly west from California, you will reach the East (as the compass directions aren’t capitalized, unless denoting a place). Much later, after writing some of these, I found this, which actually defines the term for this phenomenon of language (capitonym) and gives many more examples. It has two great poems at the bottom.

Now that we’re clear that capitalization is clearly an important component of the English language, we can move on to whether there is (since there clearly can be) a difference between Atheist and atheist.

Before I go too in depth, realize that my goal in self-applying the term “atheism” is to avoid confusion. While I could use some esoteric terminology, I pragmatically sided with atheism over agnosticism (the two being the most popular, over non-religious, non-theistic, and others) because many theists, in my experience, think an agnostic is fodder for recruitment, since there appears to be some implication of doubt.

Short of the clouds parting and a heavenly voice calling my name and beckoning me, I can’t imagine anything that would make me rethink theism. To a percent, I am 99.999 repeating-forever percent sure. This is mathematically 100%, as .9 repeating is equal to 1. Don’t believe me? What is 1/3rd expressed as a fraction? The answer is .3 repeating to infinity. Triple that, and you have .9 repeating to infinity. So while I may not express myself as 100%, it is virtually the same. If I seem like a literalist, it is because I am.

Since theism cannot prove its existence, some people do not even acknowledge it. Some are apatheists, and don’t care about this “god” stuff. Some brush it off as something other people worry about, believing it won’t affect them. Then they get sick one day; it’s not a prophecy, its mortality. Suddenly the fact that religious fundamentalists hate funding science plays a direct role over whether there is medicine which will treat you. I can’t ignore this moral travesty, and the other little things that religion messes with (like equal rights) will just be icing on the cake if religion ever loses its influence. Since religion won’t topple itself, it’s up to skeptics to help.

I’m more accurately a non-theist, or perhaps antitheist. However, some would misinterpret antitheist to mean I somehow envision myself as aligned in opposition to gods. This would in turn imply belief in gods. Antitheism has nothing to do with faith, only an opposition to theism. Non-theism, then, is probably the best descriptor for my stance on gods. Also, I think the title of my blog pretty much sums it up.

However, non-theism, like atheism, is not a statement of affirmation. Instead, it is merely the rejection of an idea. If I were to describe myself, I would say I’m an opinionated, independent, argumentative rationalist who believes in total unification (though not homogenization) of the human race and who is fascinated by mythology, philosophy, morality, and ethics.

Divine Intervention and Spider Bites

The faithful have a phrase that has always bugged me: "Everything happens for a reason." I don't agree with this at all, as I am not a fatalist. Pre-determination is not an idea to which I subscribe. I think everything that happens has a cause, but not a "reason."

Reason would imply some sort of planned, designed, or even desired outcome. While some things do indeed happen for a reason, it is not a universal. While my initial goal of this post was to delve into free will, I would rather analyze a situation I found while browsing some online news stories.

In the past, ideologists would posit hypothetical, though plausible, scenarios in order to illustrate a point. Today, we have the internet to allow us access to countless real situations (in theory). The case of David Blancarte is one of great interest.

In 1988, at the age of 27, David was a boxer and dancer. Then, he had a motorcycle accident. He became paralyzed from the waist down. This was a tragedy of youth wasted, and the young man was confined to a wheelchair. The thoughts running through his mind must have been unthinkably bleak, as the situation seemed hopeless.

After 21 years, David had another bit of bad luck. He was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Though not deadly, the bite is painful and can lead to necrotic ulceration (epidermal damage resulting in dead tissue around the site). What could he have possibly done in a past life to deserve this?

But David's story doesn't end here. Instead, David's nurse attempts a treatment that has never been proven effective in clinical trials: electric shock to the affected area. David felt the shock as it was administered, even though the injury was to his leg.

After months of rehabilitation, David walked out of the hospital having been admitted paralyzed with a spider bite. His case is being hailed as a medical marvel(or "miracle," to those so inclined). Surely the gods must have some great plan for David, and he can't wait for the day when he will walk his 14-year-old twin daughters down the aisle of their respective weddings.

However, it would seem David is not interested in any of these plans, as he was arrested this month on an outstanding warrant stemming from a contempt of court charge that occurred during a domestic abuse case. Perhaps the gods wanted David to be able to walk himself into prison.

This case is a strange ride through destiny.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Atheism as Rebellion

I have often said atheism is not a religion, though Atheism (with a capital A, defined as one who claims and militantly defends the belief that there are not, or cannot be, gods) is a faith; when organized into a group, it can take on aspects of religion (like American Atheists or Brights).

On the other hand, atheism is simply a rebellion against religion, just as anarchy is not a system of government, but a complete lack thereof. Both of these ideas, anarchy and atheism, are statements of one saying that having nothing at all would be better than what we have now. Both are a call towards ideological emptiness, devoid of all culture, an intellectual vacuum. When a system begins to break down, and that system has successfully suppressed much of its outside influence, rejection of the old is directed towards nothing, figuratively and literally.

However, most individuals cannot stay in a state of rebellion for long, let alone a lifetime. It is not some form of weakness that draws people to faith, nor is it fear, or even emotional. Each person’s needs are fulfilled differently by religion, which is why we are fortunate to have such a vast choice. Religion offers many things to people: moral guidance, community, and some third one (I thought for five minutes and got nothing). However, it does not have a monopoly on any of them.

I would argue that there are more believers in America because there are more options (though more people in non-monotheistic religions would be nice). It’s the same reason we watch more TV: more channels. If you live in a country with few options, you will be driven to atheism. Many atheists will convert before they die. Many won’t. I have no idea what the break down would be, but it’s clear from observation that some, like Anne Rice, forsake their hedonistic past. Others, like Christopher Reeves, reject organized religion to the very end.

We all take different paths in life. While some follow what they hope to be a master’s path, they must trust those who have tread upon and obscured the original footprints. Some push to new terrain, despite the herd’s shouted threats of danger. Perhaps the maps we follow are different because we do not seek the same things. Regardless, atheists may wander freely, while Atheists must be content to sit alone, laughing at those who pass.

It is great to have choice, even with A/atheism.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Infomercial Invasion

Some people may have noticed a surge in primetime advertising for... well... crap. The most popular ones are Cash for Gold, the Snuggie, and ShamWow. My personal favorite is the last one, as this is a product I have had personal experience with. No, I never ordered one, but the material (mostly rayon) has been used as a towel by swimmers for years now.

I can attest that it makes a great pool towel, but I would highly discourage the use of it as a disposable towel replacement. I can't imagine the gross build up that would occur after cleaning up a couple soda or juice spills with that. An interesting side note: the guy who does the commercial is named Vince Offer. He's a former Scientologist. *daily Scientology reference quota met*

Why is there a surge in awful ads? TV advertising is going down in price, so that means we can expect more of these almost-great ideas. Of course, I stay up late, so I'm no stranger to awful commercials. I've seen midgets selling real estate, Esteban selling guitars, and about a dozen products from Billy Mays. I think it's fair that people on normal sleep schedules should suffer as I have for so long. In the end, you at least get a great laugh out of it (or sponsor a kid in Africa with a suspiciously Western name).

Atheism's Jewish Roots

I see religion as evolving through history. At first, man must have “worshipped” (or simply stood in awe at) the natural world that he saw. The sun, moon, stars, and weather must have seemed impressive and mysterious to the burgeoning rational human. Even some animals are impressive.

Some people, either through mind or might, would distinguish themselves as powerful. The worship of heroes and cults of personality would arise around those who seemed (or claimed) to possess knowledge or control over nature. Heroes who descend to the world of the dead and return are popular, but sometimes great chiefs and kings have been identified with sky or earth gods.

The end result of all this hero worship is a vast collection, or pantheon, of gods and goddesses. Polytheism was the natural progression from local tribal worship into communal and city systems. Within pantheons, gods seem to vie for power as their followers on Earth war with each other. In the end, these wars seemed to determine which systems “worked best” (or got lucky). Adaptable religions persisted, static religions died, and dynamic new ones filled in the gaps.

What does all of this have to do with a link between Judaism and Atheism? Judaism is the first persisting faith to deny the existence of gods. In fact, all Abrahamic religions owe their theology to Judaism. Prior to this, Greek and Roman theology had practiced syncretism, which is the belief that one small village’s chief god is merely a local manifestation of the father god of the conquering empire’s pantheon. This is why gods like Zeus, Ares, Athena, etc. have many additional epithets that denote local cult worship. Even Yahweh and Jesus were both invoked by non-Jewish, non-Christian Greeks and Romans for the purposes of ritual (most evidence that survives today is in the form of curse tablets, buried in the ground).

The Abrahamic attitude toward the religious faiths of others opened the door for atheism. While it may have taken a long time, this is because the monotheists were much better at quashing resistance than the open-minded pagans before them. While the Romans are criticized by modern Christians for their intolerance, Rome was far more accommodating to new ideas under polytheism than under the Church (as evidenced by the Church’s ability to rise to prominence). The treatment of “heretical” thought under monotheistic control is a direct result of the narrow, singular worldview presented as truth (evidenced by the complete lack of thinking that occurred in the Dark Ages).

So we have progressed from wonder, to hero worship, to a pantheon of gods, to one god. However, this is not where we are today. Instead, we live in a revisitation of the hero worship phase. The most popular religions around the world are Christianity and Islam, both of which are reliant on cult figures to define their worship. While Christians claim Jesus was God, and Muslims won’t bow down to a picture of Mohammed, the reverence for these very human (and therefore imperfect) men as unquestionable pillars of religious practice have resurrected the hero cult.

New personalities are always appearing, ready to lead their own flocks in the name of the one god. The heroes portrayed themselves as self-sacrificing, all in honor of the one god. Monotheism can potentiate one positive cause, but only if it is successful in complete membership of every person: complete unification under one goal. This is unrealistic, and perhaps frightening when one considers how foolishly humanity tends to act when no criticism is tolerated (and what methods are used to achieve complete “compliance”).

It would appear the next logical step was atheism, as this is the complete severance from the abstract notion of the divine. I have no doubt atheism will become popular, but it will likely never be a majority. Atheism, in the average person, is a vacuum of faith which sucks in any nearby idea. Those not intellectually motivated to pursue secular solutions to replace those of religion will be cursed to swallow the venom of dogma along with the waters of belief when the next person comes along claiming to have the answer. Old faiths will continue to disappear, and new faiths will replace them.

As atheism increases, the cult of personality will as well, and new religions will form more frequentlty. Scientology has already filled a niche in a scientifically minded society. It has constructed its theological and philosophical vocabulary around scientific sounding terms and theories. It has even gone so far as to paint their primary secular competition, psychiatry and psychology, as the enemy.

Whether popular religions today continue into the future will not be an issue of which faith is “better.” There is no better or worse faith, only ones that work for their time and place, and ones that do not. The one’s that work in the future will be ones that are compatible with society’s ever changing needs and situation. Whether a religion can evolve will determine whether it survives to lie another day, or retires to the night-time fairy tales of tomorrow’s children.

Technology and the Garden

There seems to be a fear of technology among some people. Movies are full of science-gone-wrong. The birth of science fiction, according to most, is in the very fear of science itself: Frankenstein.

Science is seen as unnatural, something we can't control and will never understand. The dinosaurs break out of 'Jurassic Park'; the cure for a disease becomes a killer virus in 'I Am Legend'; robots we build to help us end up hurting us in 'Tron', 'I, Robot', all the 'Terminator' films, etc.

Where does all this fear of knowledge come from? My first impulse is to assume it is an innate fear of failure, but this is an insecurity of the individual. I am unsure this would manifest itself in the societal psyche so aggressively if it were merely collective uncertainty.

Then it occurred to me that we in the West are exposed to a story from an early age that teaches us to fear technology. It is a story that is meant to make us avoid tasting of the fruit of knowledge. When we are told of Adam and Eve's eviction from Eden, we are told that the snake's luring words and promises of knowing God's secrets is the prime sin of mankind.

Perhaps this is why some believers are so vocal when it comes to opposing risky technological advances. However, it is apparent that people know better, especially in times of despair. In the end, the person having a heart attack does not call their pastor first; they call 911 to be taken to a hospital. It is technology that people turn to in their darkest moments of fear. Even when death creeps up on those who claim to believe in heaven, they still want to stay here. This evident doubt gives me hope that those who believe aren't as dumb as they want to be.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Born Again Atheist

Growing up, my father was an atheist and my mother was a Catholic. My father followed my mother to church, but he didn't go up for a holy cracker or say every prayer. He was just being polite (far more polite than I would ever be).

From an early age, I knew my dad was different than my mom in this respect, but it didn't really matter to me until I was older and started hearing that people who don't believe in Jesus go to hell. And worse, Catholics teach that according to section 1035 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (AKA: the shit Jesus apparently forgot to mention): "Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell."

This made me upset, considering my father might go to hell. I didn't know what the mortal sins were, so I looked them up. It turns out one of them is disrespecting your parents, so I just left my dad to his own devices, for fear of bringing the wrath upon me.

A lot has changed since I was a legalistic Catholic who knew his Catechism and Bible front to back. I read the entire Bible (Catholic, New American Bible translation) by 5th grade. I have since read the bible several more times, though later readings were directed by a purpose and sometimes in different translations (and often not thoroughly). Since becoming an atheist when I was 14, I have read the KJV Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It is my closeness to the material that makes it impossible for me to believe. I refuse to acknowledge that any sane person can read the entire Bible and believe it to be literally true.

However, I have discovered there is a process by which one becomes an atheist. People like to focus on some sort of trauma inducing early event that triggers a dislike for religion, but this is not necessary. What makes someone become an atheist is unique and personal for each person. After this personal reason is established, there are phases a person goes through when becoming a "Born Again Atheist."

The focus of this post is on people who were formeraly religious and then cease to be. Some folks are lucky enough to be born without religion pressed upon them. For the rest of us, crawling out of the stagnant swamp of religion is a complex process.

The first stage is realization. There may be hesitation, backsliding into comfortable ritual, and continued adherence to many or all religious rules, but the mental decision is made in this stage. The thoughts in one's mind swim like sharks in a pool that is far too small. How do I tell those I love? Will they still love me? Am I making the right decision? What if I'm wrong? Why won't god answer my prayers?

This first stage can be one of desperation. Some people ease into this stage over time, perhaps when they go off to college (for those lucky and rich enough). This makes the whole process easier, as you can form a new network of friends and have space apart from those who may oppose your new ideas. Those who rely upon family for everything, however, often find themselves in a vastly more hostile situation, and may never progress to the next step.

The second stage is dropping your birth religion, in both word and action. This can be done quickly or gradually over time, and is not always a complete break. Many are the atheists who give gifts at Christmas (and it IS Christmas, not "Winter Solstice," you fucking PC police).

The third stage, and everyone goes through this (sometimes concurrently with step 2), is to briefly adopt a new religion. It happens, trust me. Nine times out of ten, the new atheist decides they're a Buddhist and spends months trying to convince themselves that Buddhism and atheism are basically compatible. Some just stick with it to varying degrees of seriousness. Every white person I ever met who is Buddhist took this path, and never progressed from this stage.

Stage four is full-fledged atheism. By this stage, one realizes that every religion is like a song. Every culture has it's own, but they're all in the same key. However, while every song is about peace and love, most followers only hum the words [out of tune].

Within atheism itself, there are further stages of complexity. The most common is the atheist who ceases interest in religion entirely. The most visible is the violently oppositional atheist, who does not hesitate to point out to all who will listen that there is no god. There are the empathetic atheists, who seek out other atheists so that they may join together in their similarity. Empathetic atheists often seek to build a community of Atheism (emphasis on the capital A), turning the idea of anti-religion on its head and instead embracing concepts like Freethought, Rationalism, and Science as uniting factors.

I have never met another atheist like myself, though I know we are out there (if only because there isn't an original atom in my body). I am technically an atheist, but I am more defined by my desire to oppose the idea of groups. It's not that I want to be a lone wolf, nor that I believe we as humans work poorly together. Rather, I oppose groups because while on the surface they appear to bind us, groups only divide us. There is only one group I want to be identified with: the human race. It is indivisible and excludes no one. Every group we form, border we draw, religion we found, and distinction we create between ourselves only furthers the notion that we as humans are focused on our own petty self interests. Everything that seperates the population into Us and Them succeeds only in pitting our power as a race against ourselves rather than creating music in concert together.

Religious, But Not Spiritual?

Everyone has heard some variation of the phrase, “I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual.” The comedian Daniel Tosh has the best reply to this so far: “Well I'm not honest, but you're interesting.” However, are followers and rationalists missing out on something?

I have known quite a few people who self-identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” My basic understanding of the term is that it applies to a person who holds some degree of supernatural belief, but does not feel they are adherent to a particular religion. There are many reasons for this that I have seen.

The first is that the person is just simply irreligious. They are usually the kind of person who is not interested in religion. Many people who are “spiritual, but not religious” would self-identify with a religion on a survey. However, like most people, they know little or nothing of their faith. This is not for lack of intelligence or any secret cover-up; most people just simply aren’t enthusiastic about religion, either for or against. Most people would probably prefer to never talk about it at all.

So the first group of people who self identify in this category are normal, average, non-practicing believers. This does not mean they don’t do anything religious (especially around fun holidays); they just don’t follow all the rules. Most followers fall into this category, whether they know it or not. Some people have the honesty to say they partially follow a religion, but not many. It’s easier to use a euphemism like the phrase being discussed in this post.

There are also agnostics who see themselves as culturally religious. They may doubt the whole idea of god, but generally appreciate the social functions that religion still engenders. Some may follow their own “brand” of a more popular mainstream religion (usually a foreign religion; bonus points for it being Eastern). Others may do the bare minimum publicly required of them to appease family and friends. Still others are closet atheists, waiting to expose their true identity.

Like any religious tag, the phrase will mean something personal to each person who says it. However, wouldn’t it be odd if someone unified these people into one religion called the Spiritual, But Not Religious (SBNR) Church? They could have a rule that everyone WON’T meet each week. They can incorporate every holiday into their church, and members may freely celebrate any, all, or none of them.

Myself, I’m religious, but not spiritual. I believe in no superstitions, but I am very ritualistic. Humans are creatures of habit, and not even I can escape that.


There is a sub-culture of ignorance in America. Throughout the right wing, words like "elitist," "intellectual," "professor [unless followed by 'of Economics']," etc. mean something negative. This is sad for the Republican party. The only reason to hold such negative views towards those with the most knowledge in their field is because their views disagree with your own. When the experts disagree with you, maybe it's because you don't know what you're talking about.

The general attitude among the right wing has been to create an appearance that these somehow corrupt thinkers are ruining the country. Nevermind the eight years of no-holds-barred Republican capitalism, in which industries did as they pleased. How did that work out for us? We're in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression. We are a weaker nation in both health and international respect. Our children are scoring lower than most developed countries, as well as some developing ones.

The best part of all of this is that Republicans refuse to increase funding for schools. I would argue this is to help increase the number of Republicans, since it's harder to convince intelligent people of their views. All it would take is a lesson in history for Republicanism to be seen as obsolete.

The greatest claim of the Republican ideology is that of decreased government intervention. This is a wonderful idea, especially as it pertains to daily life for the individual citizen. However, Republicans want to butt government into many individual decisions: from who you love and marry to when your life begins and ends. Republicans repeatedly support measures that take control out of our control and puts it into the hands of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the Supreme Douchebag Himself. So why do Republicans claim to support "small government?"

Republicans aren't lying when they say they support smaller government, they just don't express where the government will be getting smaller. Republicans always reduce help for the citizens, both in times of need (natural disasters, welfare, healthcare) and when dealing with companies (in the form of decreased regulation). You know all those food recalls? Classic Republican deregulation.

Right wingers are full of shit when it comes to being fiscally conservative; only a Democrat has ever balanced the budget in my lifetime. Republicans love to say Democrats spend too much money, yet every Republican president since Reagan has made it their sworn duty to put this country in debt beyond the point of ever being able to repay it. If you think my generation, the children of Gen X, are ever going to get off our asses and pay that... well you must be as high as we are.

Republicans fear those who might challenge our most basic, cherished, time-honored prejudices.
Republicans, please: stop being ignorant. I know you guys aren't stupid, and there's a big difference between being ignorant and being stupid: ignorance is temporary, but stupid is forever.

A visual representation of Bush's life:

Atheist Blogroll

I'd like to thank the Atheist Blogroll for adding me. I look forward to the added traffic :-P

Friday, March 13, 2009


People reject the notion that one cannot have any faith. To theists, atheism is a faith because they cannot “prove” the non-existence of god(s). The root of this problem is that atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief. However, theists do not view it this way because they see the disbelief in their theory of God as a leap of faith, even though they have presented a situation that cannot be disproven (which makes the statement utterly pointless to discuss).

In light of this attitude, a prevailing theory for those who do not believe in god(s) must be presented. A competing idea would be more substantial than an empty rejection, which relies on defining itself solely on its opposition to a proposed belief. This competing idea must coincide with the theist’s theory of god, but it must also be scientifically relevant.

The theory of God claims the existence of one or multiple deities. These deities are defined as having attributes including, but not limited to: creator of mankind/earth; controller of mankind/earth; provider of benefits; demander of respect; and ultimate destroyer. There is already something empirically proven to possess all these godly traits, and it’s something that we can all agree exists.

Life on this planet is not possible without the Sun. Every atom on Earth was fused in the center of the Sun at the birth of the solar system. We literally are borne out of the Sun. The cycle of day and night is governed by Earth’s rotational relationship to the Sun. The seasons are governed by the Earth’s tilt in relation to the Sun. The weather is a result of unequal heating of the Earth by the Sun. The Sun’s energy is converted into a usable form for life on Earth through photosynthesis. It provides the energy needed to drive farming, the lifeblood of human existence in the modern word. It bestows vitamin D upon exposure to human skin. The absence of the Sun causes many people to become depressed. Humanity relies upon the Sun.

The Sun has many other godly traits. The Sun cannot be stared into, perhaps out of respect for its greatness. The Sun can also punish those who do not follow this rule by blinding them. Skin cancer can be seen as ignoring or flaunting the Sun's power. These attributes demand reverence and are compounded by the fact that our planet revolves around the Sun. It is quite literally the center of our existence.

The Sun is also the bringer of the end. Assuming the Earth survives until the hydrogen in the Sun is used up, the Earth will be charred by the increased heat as the Sun expands and eventually engulfs our planet. The Sun created us, and the Sun will destroy us. At least the Sun probably won’t destroy the Earth for another couple billion years, so the Sun has not only given us life, but also the time required to become cognizant of our situation. The Sun is a merciful deity.

Knowing these facts, one can begin to explore the deeper aspects of what Heliolatry must entail. It gives man a purpose, and quite a positive one at that. Survival of the species relies upon our ability to leave our home, which is ultimately doomed. It may be all we have ever known, but it is apparent that our planet cannot support us forever.

It does not appear the Sun requires any type of worship. It is there every morning, and we know it isn’t really gone at night, nor when it’s cloudy, or even during an eclipse. Most importantly, it is a deity that we can prove exists and has a measurable influence. I urge everyone to try meditating in the sun (perhaps in a bathing suit on a beach) and then try to tell me you don’t feel heavenly.

Titles and Pleasantries

I give the world a fair amount of empathy. I never imply I am in a rush so that waiters, waitresses, store clerks, customer service reps, or tellers feel pressured. If I haven’t passed by anyone in a while, I smile to the next person or group of people I see, regardless of who they are (though I don’t walk around beaming in the middle of crowds of people).

However, I always look down upon those who demand respect or are trying to suck up to me. I like people who I can talk to casually, as if we were familiar with each other. People who demand superficial rituals to be performed in their honor disgust me and ignite my rage against their self deification. Having to address people with a title or anything other than simply their name is a gross perversion of the equality shared between all people.

I also hate to be on the receiving end of this malicious attack on basic humanism. I find petty pleasantries to be insulting to my intellect. “Sir” and “Ma’am” smack of mock flattery. They’re the 3-4 letter equivalent to saying “Hello sir, have you lost weight? Let me loosen your belt so we can slip those pants off. Then I can stick my nose directly up your ass. Oh yes sir, smells like flowers, sir. Now about that tip…”

My only regret in not furthering my education has to be that I could have earned the title "Doctor," but asked people to just call me by my first name.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Atheism vs. Iconoclasm

When it comes to the general consensus on atheism, I think the primary concern for believers is the preservation of their beliefs. This is perfectly valid, and religion should be respected as having a right to exist. Religion should never be attacked with intent to destroy. I don’t mean to imply that religions are above reproach. However, the actual destruction of religion, religious places of worship, or believers themselves is morally reprehensible.

Atheism's stance on religion will become very important with the rise in atheism's popularity. It is one of the fastest growing responses in polls regarding faith. While it clearly hasn’t happened yet, atheism may become a sought after voting demographic. Should atheism gain government support, it will be important to draw a sharp distinction between atheism and iconoclasm.

While an atheist does not believe in gods, an iconoclast seeks to destroy all ideas and faiths that differ from his own. An iconoclast can be an atheist, but most iconoclasts have been religious. The most successful iconoclasts in history have all been religious. The only government sanctioned atheist iconoclasms were in Communist nations like the Soviet Union and China; they failed miserably, as both of those countries remain largely religious. [The information on China is very nuanced; there is debate over what is a religion and what is a "thought system," or philosophy. Estimates show roughly 8-14% are "atheist." The number of people practicing Daoism and Buddhism, which are sometimes discounted as religions, brings China's religiosity to average levels for most developed nations, besides the especially religious US.]

Ancient iconoclasts include the early Christians. After attaining influence within the Roman government, they destroyed much of Rome's polytheistic culture and even secular philosophy. Epicurus, for example, is documented as having an exhaustive collection of over 300 works attributed to him, but what remains intact are only a few short letters, quotes, and interpretations of his philosophy by others. Epicurus believed that the gods deserved no worship, which is likely why so little of his ideas survived Christianization. Modern iconoclasts include the Taliban of Afghanistan, who destroyed the colossal Bamiyan Buddha statues, built over 1,500 year ago.

These acts are damaging to humanity as a whole. All religions and philosophies are collections of accumulated wisdom. They plumb the deepest recesses of the human condition. Every ideology has a value that is intangible to us. Who would have thought Freud would deduce such conclusions from the myth of Oedipus? Could Plato conceive that his ideas would be borrowed by rebellious Jews hundreds of years later, who would go on to call themselves Christians?

One day, all that we believe will be taught to young children, and they will mock us for it. We must keep a humble perspective on our place in history. Even our greatest institutions are but tiny pieces of a much greater puzzle. We must be sure not to forget any of them, even if we cease to believe them. One day every text that is sacred now will be read in Ancient History classes alongside Homer, and I have news for you: most people will prefer Homer.

Pascal Wagers; I raise

I find Pascal's Wager to be one of the most likely reasons people become religious followers. How can something most of the faithful have never heard of influence their decision?

Blaise Pascal was a mathematician and Christian apologist. He articulated in clear, mathematical terms why it was statistically preferable to believe in God. His theory can be expressed in this chart:

The chart represents a scenario all people are faced with: to believe, or not to believe. There are also two outcomes possible. The chart illustrates the four results of both belief and disbelief in either a world with God or a world without.

According to the chart, the believer is rewarded if there is a god, while the disbeliever is punished. If there is no god, both the believer and non-believer have a net gain/loss of zero from their choice. The outcome is that only belief can bring a positive gain, and that nothing can come of disbelief. To the believer, this idea is self-evident. However, there's some serious logical fallacies going on with the scenario.

The first thing I notice is that the chart assumes belief is the defining factor for salvation. Many have argued that one's actions, not beliefs, are the yardstick by which the soul is judged.

Another dilemma is the false dichotomoy of only two possible outcomes. In reality, there are far more options. Which gods are we talking about? The basic assumption is belief in YHWH, the Abrahamic monodeity (AKA: God). However, entire pantheons of gods are ignored on a daily basis. Should a follower of YHWH be saved if the decision is up to the Greek Zeus, Norse Odin, Egyptian Osiris, or Aztec Quetzalcoatl? "God" and "No God" are inadequate, and a new column would need to be added to include each deity who judges the dead from every religion that ever existed.

But wait, what if the gods have no interest in our dronings? Let's assume YHWH is the one true God for a minute, which also assumes man was made in God's image. From that, I can extrapolate that God has human tendencies, which is evident in the Bible's emotional and rash portrayal of the supreme being.

What if the chantings of the faithful followers annoy Him? What if He's ticked off by the countless prayers to help pay bills, conceive children, find a job, etc.? Not to mention sports related prayers... I bet he's really pissed during the playoffs. In this case, some forms of belief may actually have drawbacks. What makes us think God likes church services? This doesn't seem out of character for the Heavenly Father; what dad likes going to those gay performances their kids put on? The answer is none of the straight ones, and we know YHWH is all man, baby!

Then there's the "Jealous God" pitfall. Sure you can worship lots of gods, but what if that angers the more powerful ones? What if sacrificing a ram to Poseidon will piss off Thor? We already know YHWH's hang-ups with other gods. I can't imagine they appreciate His claim to being the only one. By taking a side, one risks offending the divine, especially if you're wrong.

There is also the small matter of the inaccuracy of the "No God" results. The wager assumes that nothing is given up for faith, but any follower will tell you that to truly be religious takes self-sacrifice. It requires changes in life style, habits, manners, and even monetary investments, and that's even apart from charitable donations to the church. I have yet to hear of a religion that has never asked for a dime (even American Atheists will take donations).

In the end, the wager is logical only to the uncreative believer. Still many believe, "just in case."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Is Atheism Distrusted?

Atheism appears to be the most popular belief to “distrust” in the United States. This does not surprise me, nor does it really worry me. In a country where faith in a fairy tale is very popular, those who choose not to play the game tend to be disliked by the participants. Imagine a basement full of geeks playing dungeons and dragons; sure the dwarves hate the orcs, but both of them (and even the elves) hate the older brother who barges in and asks where the dungeon master left the keys to the car right when the legendary Crystal Goblet of the Hydra is being unearthed from its millennial resting place...

According to many polls, atheists are not people who would be considered worthy candidates for the presidency. Atheists have been banned from serving public office or swearing testimony in court (the ban stands in 6 states, including Arkansas, but cannot be enforced due to being unconstitutional). Only one congressman, Pete Stark (D-CA), has admitted publicly to being an atheist.

Non-believers make up over a tenth of the population in every poll taken this decade, yet their lack of representation even overshadows that of women. There are 74 female representatives (out of 435) and 17 female senators (out of 100), constituting 17% of both the house and senate; at 51% of the population, this makes women’s current representation 33% of what it would be if it were a perfect representation. With one representative (that we know of), that gives atheists a .2% congressional presence (and I rounded up… generously). Going by recent polls of 16% of the population being non-believers, about 1.25% of atheists are being represented in congress.

To be honest, none of this worries me. For one, there have been very few directed attacks against atheists, perhaps because there is rarely a place we all gather together. It’s hard to target something like an idea when the person isn’t seen practicing anything that would suggest their stance. Other than the ban on public oaths, and the use of the term “god” on my money and in the pledge of allegiance, I have very few problems with how atheism is treated from a legal standpoint. I have no interest in an “atheist agenda,” nor would I vote for someone simply because they were atheist. In fact, it makes one begin to wonder, what is it about atheism that people claim to dislike?

I have compiled a list of the complaints I have heard over my years of engaging the faithful in conversation/debate/argument. The complaints tend to fall into one of a series of concerns:

1. If you don’t believe in God, what keeps you from running naked down the street molesting children with a heroin needle sticking out of your arm while throwing acid on puppies?

2. Oh you’re just young, it’s a phase (not really a concern, just a condescending remark).

3. I’m sorry you had a horrible experience with religion, but at MY church, we…

4. So what do you think happens after we die?

People who ask some form of #1 are under the sad, misguided notion that people get their morality from their faith. You may get ideas for which signs to print up at your next protest or be told how to vote by your faith, but those things are less morality and more the ease with which the flock is controlled. I am not saying religion isn’t a great way to get people mobilized to ban something others enjoy, I’m just saying it’s irritating.

Which leads me to the jackass who thinks they’ve “been there.” You know the type: they were religious until they went to college, then they stopped going for four years, got married and had a kid. In a panic, they realized they had no clue how to raise a child, so they turned to the cheapest support they could think of in a pinch: religion. Here’s a marvelous system that will teach your children who to love (at first, everyone), who to hate (queers and the godless, once you’re old enough to ask about them), and even how to behave… sort of. Sure, most of the ten commandments don’t really apply to children, but you tell yourself that religion will somehow transfer “values” into your baby through the osmosis of the magic voodoo gathering every week.

Why is it that so many people think that because I am no longer Catholic, I was raped by a priest? Don’t get me wrong, they like boys, but the kids they bang grow up to become priests more often than atheists. They like a priest who can keep a secret. But in all seriousness, you don’t need a traumatic event to one day realize it’s all bullshit. Trust me, you can just wake up one day and see the world for what it really is: a lucky wet rock hurtling through space around a nuclear furnace. Sounds ridiculous when you think about it.

Since I seem to act like I have all the answers, why don’t I let you in on the secret of what happens after we die, right? Unfortunately, I have little knowledge of the subject. If I had to guess, I would have to say that the eternity of death will be like the eternity before birth; largely uneventful for ourselves, but pretty exciting for everyone who’s alive. There's a lot of big questions in life, and while some people will be happy to claim to have the answers, there's no comfort in the end for those who believe an attractive lie.

I always much preferred the idea of reincarnation over an afterlife, not because I would like to be reincarnated, nor do I have any recollection of a past life. Rather, I find a romantic notion in believing that I should do my best in this life, since maybe the decisions I make in this world will affect me later when I come back. Why not fight for the rights of women, gays, and minorities, in case you come back as one? It hasn’t worked for India; they had/have a rigid caste system and believe those born in a low caste deserve it. I suppose people have a way of turning all good religious ideas into systems of oppression.

However, the most insidious atheist bashing is abstract. It is rarely expressed in the presence of a known atheist (and we can go covert, in moments of boredom). Atheists often get attributed many characteristics they don’t usually possess: a desire to recruit; a legislative agenda meant to oppress the religious; associations with everything from drugs to gothic rock music.

I would be foolish to say no atheist recruits (Richard Dawkins does, which offends the religious because he stole their idea of spreading viral ideology). However, I do not recruit. I see the necessity of religion as a sandbox to play in, away from the patio where the grown-ups are busy. I have no desire in dragging so much as a single person even capable of faith into atheism, for fear their belief will poison the well of scientific objectivity with fetid dogma.

As for the belief by the religious that atheism threatens religion in any way, reality paints a different picture: religion is an elephant running in fright from the mouse of atheism; neither is in competition with the other, as each fills a completely different niche in the environment, but the elephant is capable of great harm to the mouse (once it realizes it).

However, the ultimate problem with trying to criticize atheism is that nothing can be definitively pinned on atheism, as it defies any clear, concrete base of belief. Rather than get to know each individual atheist, it’s easier to try to picture atheists getting together to do unsavory things you tell yourself happen nightly in the homes of such awful people (I call it the Heathen Fantasy, where believers picture atheists as living in the movie "Eyes Wide Shut"). It’s far easier to assume there’s something linking all of these people who rejected such a perfectly reasonable belief as that of a bearded, flying daddy-figure.

I know I must have missed something, and a believer somewhere won’t hesitate to remind me of what specific nuance of the whole debate I have neglected, but that about sums up everything I have heard people complain about when it comes to atheism. There is one final note I have uncovered in my studies, however, that points me to an underlying factor that some of the faithful probably think, perhaps unconsciously.

Religion is, above all else, a system of formalities. Religion is not about ethics or even gods, it’s about everyday rituals and behaviors. At the core of religion is the “Bless you” when someone sneezes. At the very heart of faith is the “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukah” you say to coworkers around the holidays. Religion includes suspiciously eccentric dietary restrictions (Christianity being the only exception I can think of, and even then there were centuries of “no meat on Fridays”). In the end, religion is a contagious form of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is a system of checks, rechecks, and mental assurances that put us at ease. Anyone who has dealt with a person with OCD knows how irate they get if you are not accommodating of their eccentricities. I have seen this same behavior in the religious.

Some of us just don’t think stepping on a crack will break our mother’s back, sorry.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I was out walking my dog and an odd thing happened...

I come to an intersection and wait for it to turn green to cross. On the other side is a woman and a little girl. When the light turns green, the women walks forward and I notice she is holding a rope or cord. The child lurches forward and begins following the mother. It seems very odd, me goading my dog to cross with me as a woman doing the same thing with her child mirrors from across the street. The leash was attached to a harness around the girl’s midsection.

*Public Confession Time* I was a leash kid. My mother kept me on a leash when in public. It was attached to my wrist with Velcro, and I don't recall what the other end was attached to (probably her wrist). The leash itself was a coiled, slinky-like plastic cabling that curled in tight, yellow loops. When we were close enough to hold hands, it was almost unnoticeable, but it's shape allowed it to stretch, should I run around. It was kind of like a more rigid phone cord… from when phones had cords (25 year olds shouldn’t sound that old… damn you rapidly advancing technology).

I wonder if I’ll have a leash kid. My sister never had to wear one, and she lives closer to home now than I do; maybe tying someone to you makes them want to get away. Maybe I over-emphasize whimsical childhood memories.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pepsi/Obama Connection

On a lighter note...

Pepsi recently changed its logo. Some people say the change was to make it look like the Obama logo, and I didn't believe it until I did the comparison. Here's all three:

If the new logo is rotated 135 degrees counter clockwise, the red portion appears to be pretty similar:

A person looking at it as someone is tilting a can to finish it will see the logo oriented this way.

Perhaps the best evidence that Pepsi is jumping on to Obama's bandwagon is the Hope, Change, and other various Obama-esque slogans they have begun using:

Maybe this will be Pepsi's next move:

The Parable of the Yankees Fan

A baseball game between the Mets and Yankees plays on the TV above the heads of two men in a bar. One is wearing a Yankees hat and jersey. The other is in a button down white shirt and is balding slightly. Both have pints of beer in front of them.

The Yankees fan asks the man next to him who he’s rooting for, the Yankees or Mets. The man next to him says he is not a fan of either team, so he is not rooting for anyone.

The Yankees fan asks him if he’s a Red Sox fan or something. The man next to him says he is not a Red Sox fan, and is not rooting against either team.

The Yankees fan asks the man next to him which team he roots for. The man next to him says he is not a baseball fan at all and does not root for anyone.

The Yankees fan asks him if he’s a fag, or if he never learned how to play. The man next to him fingers his wedding ring and says he understands the rules of baseball and even played as a child.

The Yankees fan asks him if he is a basketball, football, or even hockey fan. The man next to him replies that he has other things in his life that make him happy besides sports.

The Yankees fan then tells the man that he is what is wrong with the country, and that America is obese because there is not enough support for athletics.

The man next to him points out the Yankees fan's sagging beer gut is evidence that being a fan of a sport does not make you in shape, and that there is exercise other than sports, and some sports like golf or fishing are not even exercise.

The Yankees fan tells the man baseball keeps kids off of drugs and out of trouble, and that he is probably a drug addict for how skinny he is, and probably a vegetarian who drives a Prius.

The man next to him orders hot wings and reminds the Yankees fan of use of steroids in the modern era and rampant amphetamine use during the "golden era," not to mention the increasingly long wrap-sheet of professional athletes who pose as role models for children.

The Yankees fan finishes his beer and goes over to the pool table and begins to argue with a large man in a Mets hat. The man who was sitting next to him calmly sits and finishes his beer while waiting for his wings.

Directed Medical Funding

Very often, we are confronted by a request to donate money to a cause. The most popular secular charities focus on medical research. However, I am curious how the money is being used. I also find President Obama’s comments during his joint session with congress about finding “a cure for cancer” disturbing. While I know these are noble things, medical research is a lot more random and undirected than people might be led to believe from these groups and statements.

I should point out that I majored in Pharmacy for my first four years of college. I also have several friends who have done medical research. While I’m no expert, I have a pretty good overall view of how it all works.

Most medical research is like blind hunting; researchers fire in the general direction of any sound they hear. Sometimes researchers hit something on the first shot, finding a useful drug after exploring a small group of compounds from a family suspected of providing the desired medical benefit. However, as with blind hunting, often what you aim for is not what you hit (which isn’t always a bad thing).

I have heard people, especially comedians, joke that America has no priorities because we developed Viagra. What these people don’t realize is that Viagra was developed by a lab researching blood-pressure medication, and that the test subjects pointed out that they were getting erections as a side effect. Viagra is still currently used for some heart conditions and to cure altitude sickness.

This is why all research is good. Many medical advances come about when fundamental advances in our knowledge of biology are discovered. I have no doubt that anti-aging research could bring about a cure for baldness, or that an HIV/AIDS researcher may cure the common cold. These would not be failures, even though the research has not achieved its desired goal.

When NASA was tasked with putting a man on the moon, many people began dreaming of the future: flying cars, everyone living past 100, metallic clothing, and lights on everything (maybe the last one is accurate). While we didn’t achieve those goals, I would argue the advances from the space program are even better than that: water and pool purification systems, scratch resistant lenses, enriched baby food, athletic shoe in-soles, anything using a satellite (cell phones, GPS, some TV), solar energy, calculators, light-weight fireman air tanks, etc.

If all of that comes from putting a man on the moon, one begins to wonder what might come from our mapping of the human genome or from an increased understanding of viruses. It will be fundamental research like this that drives innovation. This research is the expedition into the unknown where we hear those first, faint sounds, before we blindly start firing. However, we must realize the complexity of it all and avoid statements such as the one made by President Obama regarding cancer. There will likely never be a “cure for cancer.”

We already have treatments for most forms of cancer that have very high success rates when caught early. We must focus on new treatments for all the various diseases, ailments, and conditions we have, giving doctors more tools. We can’t claim to seek a cure for all forms of cancer, which has vastly different causes; some are likely caused by “carcinogens,” or chemicals which alter cells and can potentially make them cancerous; some cancers have been recently shown to be caused by viruses, as with cervical cancer’s link to HPV.

It’ll be up to researchers to isolate the compounds and see what they do when introduced into the human body. In the process, I wouldn’t be surprised if they discover a chemical that makes people talk backwards or smell like popcorn. It will then be up to the marketing department on how to sell those. (The backwards talking pill should be called Dysphonix… I’m not sure how to use popcorn as a Greek or Latin root.)

Atheism Can’t Fix You

While I am no mind-reader, I sense that believers are guilty of what psychologists call “projection.” This is a condition commonly seen in many aspects of life: the liar trusts no one; the thief is overprotective of their things; self-loathers think everyone hates them. People tend to attribute to other people the qualities which they themselves exhibit (whether consciously or unconsciously). Believers tend to paint non-believers as intrusive, and boy is this an instance of the pot calling the sugar black.

Atheism isn’t an answer. Atheism can’t make someone a better person. Atheism won’t fix someone who has problems. In this respect, it has a stark similarity to religion. The difference, however, is an issue of disclosure, as religions are not so open and honest about the fact that you won’t become a better person by merely being religious (or even doing the impossible, like always acting in the way that religion prescribes).

Society tows the line, “The family that prays together stays together,” even as statistics show otherwise. Other faiths, such as Judaism, get away with being accepting of the beliefs of others in public while privately subjecting their own families to the harsh treatment that American Christians reserve for such moral miscreants as gays, scientists, and feminists.

Just as there are murderers and thieves who are believers, there is likely an equal proportion among the faithless when compared to economic status. Many statistics show that non-believers have a proportionately lower crime rate, but I would attribute this to the fact that non-believers tend to have more education and are more affluent, two indicators which strongly favor low crime.

In the end, it is not one’s choice in religion which will make one a better person, but rather one’s situation. If one gets an education (something more people should have provided for them) and has a good job, one tends to be a good person.

If one does not seek those things, perhaps instead choosing to focus on something else (like, say… religion), it will not matter whether that person focuses on starting a family too early in life due to cultural pressure or medical ignorance, or whether they are godless drug addicts who have casual sex with multiple partners. The end result is statistically the same: you will be poor and less happy, making you more inclined to break the rules in order to get what you feel you deserve.

Atheism won’t fix you, but in my experience, religion can break you. That is what atheism has going for it.

Elderly Vice

Old people have always criticized the young. However, thanks to modern information gathering, we can finally begin to empirically prove that the elderly are no better than the young when it comes to intelligence.

For one thing, old people get around. Unlike many people in my generation, however, it would seem the elderly feel condoms are unnecessary. While some of the blame is being shoved on Viagra, I find it ridiculous to blame ED pills for the desire to have sex. Humans are sexual beings, and the fire of passion does not dim simply because the body weathers. Was Senator Larry Craig packing Viagra when he got caught in the Minnesota airport bathroom? I think not.

The elderly are also stereotyped as lacking the computer skills of their tech-savvy children. While I cannot attest to how accurate this is on the whole, it is supported by most anecdotal evidence I have gathered (ie: the very scientific process of asking those I know). While this claim cannot be the case for all of the elderly (which I define as someone who can remember when a nickel bought something), we all know an old person who asks us for help doing mundane computer tasks like transferring photos from a digital camera to a computer or attaching a file to an email.

Both of these problems are, I think, linked to the human condition. People are born ready to learn. By the time we are in our twenties, the learning phase of life is replaced by the action phase. While we never stop learning new things, the sheer volume of new information goes from a wild torrent in school to a mere trickle in the real world or work environment. We transition from exploring a multifaceted fascination with all things to a gradual specialization, a transition which aids us in our ability to find a career and master it.

So basically, I think old people won't use condoms for the same reason they won't learn how to use computers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Response for Mookie

Mookie made a comment on an earlier post that I found was very thoughtful and deserved a full response. Mookie begins with a quote from my post:

"No religion preaches at the highest levels that their faith is merely one of many acceptable beliefs; all religions are in it for themselves."

i've been thinking about this point, and im wondering - is atheism any different? does atheism accept other beliefs as plausible? can an atheist recognize the possibility of any (g-d based) religion as acceptable for its followers?

Since atheism is many things to many people, and certainly has no prescribed doctrines, I can only speak for my own views.

I take a positivist (or rationalist) view of knowledge, which is to say I believe nothing until it is proven plausible to me. I will not assume something is possible simply because there is no evidence against it. I want concrete evidence in all things I believe (and I do believe in many things), though I reserve a certain skepticism, even regarding the sun's morning rise.

I have yet to find a religion which can stand up to empirical scrutiny. However, I have absolutely no feelings either way regarding how others choose to view the world. I will also extend this courtesy to my child, as forcing something, even atheism, is counter-productive. So when it comes to defending my beliefs (as atheism is not a belief, simply a lack of one), I have only one that I would fight to defend: laissez-faire morality.

I believe it is up to us all as individuals to determine the small choices that define our lives. The legal system must be designed to protect the freedom of all people to choose what they believe, who they love, and how to go about enjoying their lives. So long as no one else is victimized, I believe strongly in the freedom of each person to do as they please, even if it harms themselves (everyone thinks drugs first, but motorcycles, rock climbing, and even casual sex fall under this umbrella).

While I do not object to people believing in something that cannot be proven, I do forcefully oppose anything that threatens freedom. Religions too often seek to influence others, infecting innocent victims (usually children and those most in need) with ignorance and self-loathing.

So now that I've successfully circumnavigated my entire ideology, we're back to the original question: is atheism self-serving and dismissive of religious faith? Many atheists are, and at a cursory glance I would appear to be one of them. However, my opposition to religion is not in what they believe, but instead in their actions. If religions could recognize their rightful place as bastions of moral discussion and teaching, I would have a far deeper appreciation for them. However, religions too often do things like meddle in government, legislating individual morality across broad populations. One might say I do not oppose religion so much as I oppose the actions of all religions. There is a way for believers to easily see what it is I am talking about.

For most believers, the bother over Scientology is not really the fact that Scientologists believe something different about the way the world was formed. It's not about belief in Xenu's braiswashing of thetans, or anything relating to what is written by L. Ron Hubbard. Instead, believers don't want people like Tom Cruise going on TV and saying psychiatry is wrong. Believers don't appreciate the way the Church of $cientology handles its money, or its government involvement, or any of a number of complaints. Many even say the church's treatment of its own members is abuse. In the end, mainstream believers may mock the views of divinity surrounding Scientology, but they truly have disdain for the empirically proven, earthly actions of the organization.

I have no doubt that many problems with our society are directly linked to our inability to move beyond the Iron Age when it comes to religion. Religion's views on sexual preference, for example, are acceptable to me when practiced individually, but it becomes an obstruction of freedom when believers band together to decide how everyone has to love. I believe pacifism is the only belief worth fighting for, and the only thing I cannot tolerate is intolerance. I often find it difficult to tolerate religion, but I have no desire to take someone's comfort from them.

Woman With Walker

I was out walking my dog today when an odd thing happened. I saw an old woman with a walker walking towards me from about a block away. She is almost to an intersection. I notice she walks very slowly, almost an exaggeration of how slow someone with a walker would go.

At this point, I suppose I should point out it had snowed the day before. It was a cold morning, and the sidewalks were very icy. Philly doesn’t have the money to keep its sidewalks wheel-chair accessible, let alone enough cash to shovel or even salt them in the winter. Perhaps there was a reason for the woman inching her way towards me, as each step really was an inch. As I passed, I looked up and said hello. She looked up at me and said, “You just made me smile for the first time today.”

I was dumbstruck. I checked my watch; it was 9:46. I guess it was still pretty early. It was quite a thing to hear, at any time of day, but I kept walking without a reply.

I should have said thanks or something. I kept thinking about it as we wandered aimlessly, waiting for my dog, Barkley, to shit. I pondered the generational distance between us; I don’t know if someone from my generation would say that to a stranger. What she said seemed too honest, too genuine, too polite.

It didn’t hit me until I was back home writing about it, but what if saying that was her kind way of asking for help crossing the street? Maybe there was an implied reciprocity in her comment. What if, in an early morning haze, I neglected to help an old lady cross an icy street? What if I personify the problem with my generation? Maybe we’re all too dazed and distracted to even realize there are those crying out for help around us. Maybe only I am.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Marriage is one of those things that religion has fervently latched onto. Religion cling to marriage, like a stain, leading to embarrassing opposition to homosexual unions. There’s nothing quite as pathetic as when religion attempts to stand firmly between two people who love each other.

Like it has done with ethics, religion often claims to be the source of marriage. It even proports to be the key to marital success. However, statistics show that atheist/agnostic couples have lower divorce rates than religious couples. The difference is even more pronounced when comparing non-believers to fundamentalists.

One of the basic religious myths is that religion itself does anything. In point of fact, religion does absolutely nothing; the believers are the religion, and religion itself is an inanimate concept. In the end, every religion is as weak as its human members. However, there is little good that can come from an ideology that encourages hasty unions. This is likely the cause of higher divorce among the religious.

Case in point, a fourteen year old was married in Israel on a school yard because they uttered the right sacred words, exchanged rings, and had sex (whether this last part was on the school yard is my question). This is an instance in which theocracy attempts to supersede the rule of secular law. This news story shows the ridiculous nature of literal religious belief. Another divorce in the name of God.

This is really why gay marriage should be allowed. Aside from the fact that allowing gays to marry does not alter the sanctity of marriage, heterosexual religious couples have successfully made a mockery of the institution long ago. The opposition for gay marriage will go down as a hideous reminder of intolerance, and hopefully serves as a reminder of why tradition was meant to be changed.
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