Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Curious Case of Questioning Faith

When I stop and think about it, there are so many reasons to stop being religious that it’s sad so few do.

I find that how someone becomes an atheist tends to happen one of two ways: either you learn about atheism and find it appealing, or you learn about religion and find it appalling. I personally took the latter route, losing faith well before I ever found atheism. However, I suspect that both paths to atheism are lined with questions.

I found that religion hates when believers ask questions – or at least certain questions. Sure, they like some questions… like those that assume the basic premises of the faith are true. However, if you start asking questions that religion cannot truly answer, you will get a brush-off reply that means nothing, essentially amounting to an appeal to “take it on faith.” I even compiled a list of some responses given by Christians when they don’t know, but would like to appear like they do.

If I had to pin down one question that really shook my faith, it would be: “Where did God come from?” It’s a question for which theologians have many responses, but no answers. Meanwhile, atheism answers this question quite simply and succinctly: our imagination.

But I can’t point to that question and say, “That is why I became an atheist.” It’s not my “proof,” by any means. Rather, it leads to other questions based on the responses given by believers (e.g. if “god” can simply be, why can’t the universe?). Questioning in general exposes the deficiencies in religion, so I can understand why religion discourages curiosity.

And yet, I have found no shortage of religious folks who want to try to answer my questions now that I’m an atheist. When you’re a believer, questioning is evil, but when you’re an atheist, it’s not only expected, it’s almost like any question on my part is an invitation to proselytize.

Many religious people just like to represent their faith, because you are never more sure of your religion as when you’re defending it from the outside. A fellow believer with doubt is disconcerting, but confronting a non-believer is basically an opportunity.

I also notice a very different stance in how what I say now as an atheist is interpreted versus if I said it as a believer.

No believer I ever met since becoming an atheist is open to my ideas, at all. I’m not saying believers ignore me or don’t really listen to me, but they keep me at a distance and don’t take what I say seriously. They see what I say as either a joke or an attack (at least I understand why it might be seen as a bad joke, coming from me). When I was a believer (or when I read blogs and comments between believers), those same concerns are empathized with, and we are reassured, “That’s normal, everyone has those questions and concerns.”

It’s quite a situation, no question about it.

Top Ten: Favorite, Least Favorite, and Not Quite -ist’s

Top Ten: Favorite -ist’s

10. Nudist
9. Artist
8. Feminist
7. Altruist
6. Guitarist
5. Humorist
4. Nonconformist
3. Pragmatist
2. Absurdist
1. Suffragist

Top Ten: Least Favorite -ist’s

10. Creationist
9. Exorcist
8. Racist
7. Arsonist
6. Chauvinist
5. Extremist
4. Dentist
3. Rapist
2. Fascist
1. Lobbyist

Top Ten: Not Quite -ist’s

10. Foist
9. Exist
8. Waist
7. Hoist
6. Twist
5. Heist
4. List
3. Antichrist
2. Moist
1. Poltergeist

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Fourth Branch of Government

When I was in school, I learned how the government works. As it turns out, the government doesn’t work, and I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with the parts of government I was never told about as a child.

As far as I can tell, the main thing I was never taught was that there is a fourth branch of government, called the Lobby. They play an important role in how America doesn’t work.

For one thing, the Lobby writes the laws. I used to think the Legislation did this, but as it turns out, they don’t. Writing laws is work, and legislators aren’t paid enough to actually care. So, they have lobbyists do this job for them. So really, the Lobby writes the laws, and then the Legislation votes on whether to enact that law.

Except… if there’s one thing harder than writing, it’s thinking. So, to save the Legislation from having to think, lobbyists tell legislators how to vote. This is done based on a complex system of “donations” (known in other industries as “bribes”).

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “We need to elect people who will represent us, not lobbyists!” You adorable, stupid little citizen. No matter who you elect, they will be bought, and if they somehow can’t be bought, their opponent in the next election will magically find the financial support necessary to destroy anyone who might follow the wishes of voters over lobbyists.

In fact, the whole election system is very much dependent upon lobbyists and the wealthy interests behind them. Every elected official depends upon the millions of dollars of support from private, wealthy individuals, because wealthy people matter more than the rest of us and what they have to say matters more. Rich people are just better than we are… that’s why they’re rich. We should all just shut up and do whatever they want, because it will be much easier for all of us if we just play along.

Even those who have no need for re-election still rely upon the Lobby. The Supreme Court is a life appointment, so they should be free from this corruption… except, Supreme Court Justices are still people, and people love money. Money talks, and justice is blind, not deaf. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of parties with direct financial connections to various Justices in the past, and it won’t stop anytime soon.

So, what can you do? Make money. Make lots and lots of money. No one cares how you get it… it could be from bootlegging, or selling defective medical equipment for premature babies, or stuffing poisonous insulation into every public school… don’t worry about how you become rich, the important thing is being rich.

Once you have amassed millions, then you too can make a difference. Show up to meals that cost $20,000 a plate and let you shake hands with the President. Give a few insider tips on how you plan to tank your company so that some important Senators can short-sell your stock and make a fortune, then have them bail you out with taxpayer money for the privilege. Give the wives of some federal judges a job on your board of directors (now your board even meets “diversity” standards!).

The world really opens up for you when you’re rich, and the only person holding you back from all this success is you… and your morals, and your lack of connections, and your pathetic pedigree, and that faint smell of feet that follows you everywhere. Know your place, plebian.

America truly has the best government that money can buy.

Monday Rule: Hard Work

Some wealthy people acquire their money through hard work, though never their own. No one becomes successful until they get a job that credits them for the hard work of others. Those who have worked hard for everything they have are all poor. Hard work isn’t a bad thing, it’s just that the best that you can hope for from working hard is to acquire an easy job that pays well.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snippet: Libertarians

A libertarian doesn’t believe in absolute freedom, like they claim. They believe you can have as much freedom as you can personally afford.

Saturday Reflection #66

All people are guided by reason and logic, so long as they have had time for their emotions to make a decision and their minds to justify it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ten Rules to Live By

I think one of the great pastimes of creative atheists is rewriting religious ideology, and there’s probably no other single religious dogma that gets more attention in Western culture than the Ten Commandments.

This isn’t to say there aren’t other horrible sets of rules in the Bible, or that other religions don’t have other sets of rules which beg to be altered. The Ten Commandments just stand out for us. Both Christians and Jews claim to honor them, though they can’t seem to agree on how to number them, and Muslims are pretty fond of them, as well.

Atheists and non-monotheists, however, will see many of the Ten Commandments as being… well… dumb.

I’ll be using the Augustinian numbering, since I was raised Catholic.

Commandments 1-3 are some of the most ignorant trash in the whole Bible. It’s full of crap, like: punishing people of the third and fourth generation of someone who worships another God; don’t misuse magical words; don’t work on the Sabbath… and don’t let your animals do anything, and the same goes for any visitors to your town.

It’s not until Command 4 (or the 5th, if you go by the numbering of most Protestants and Jews) that you have a rule that makes any sense at all. It’s a solid rule: honor your father and mother so that you can maintain your inheritance. That’s a pretty good rule, and so rarely do you see a Commandment justify why you should.

I wouldn’t say it’s one of the top ten most important rules… but it’s not a bad rule. Obviously there are plenty of examples where you may have to escape the clutches of abusive parents, but it’s still generally a good commandment for most people.

You shall not kill… more accurately rendered sometimes as “don’t murder,” which takes care of legal caveats we have placed on the rule, like exceptions for self-defense and obviously war. Another good commandment, so we’re 2/5

With number 6, it’s a little bit fuzzier. Again, there are exceptions, and they hold up. I assume if you’re in an open relationship, or you and your spouse are mutually interested in swinging or swapping or whatever the kids are doing these days… it’s not technically adultery, since there is no deception or betrayal.

But what I think makes the adultery commandment so unfair is that, by Biblical standards, if you get divorced and remarry, you are a de facto adulterer. I’m not a fan of divorce, but sometimes it’s just necessary. It’s often better for everyone involved to separate than for a couple to stay together. To demonize people who lose love and look for it elsewhere is just pathetic. This rule is written by jilted wife-beaters, I have no doubt about it.

Stealing is wrong. Not much more to say, another good commandment (I’m calling it 3.5/7)

Again, #8 is a good one. It’s really bad to bear false witness against your neighbor. Today, we call this perjury, but most people extrapolate that honesty is a good policy based on this commandment, and I suppose it’s generally true, but not enough to be a good rule. Still, I’ll give it to the Bible on this one, since the commandment doesn’t say, “Don’t lie.”

Commandments 9 and 10 are not good at all. For one thing, I’m surprised Christianity can be followed by capitalists, since it’s coveting that drives capitalism. I see nothing wrong with coveting. What is bad is if you kill your neighbor to steal his stuff and his wife… but we covered all of those acts already with #5, #6 and #7.

Total score: 4.5/10

Basically, the Ten Commandments don’t even score a D- with a 14 point curve. That’s pretty bad.

I’d like to think that if I put together a list of ten rules, I could get at least a C- (or 7/10). In fact… if I were God and I got to make these rules, I would only want about 7/10 to be good rules. I get why some of the rules aren’t all that great, I really do, but I wouldn’t waste the opportunity by aggrandizing myself.

So, here it goes… completely off the top of my head…

1. Don’t rape anyone. Rape includes forcing someone into any sexual act against their will, having sex with someone who is unconscious, or having sex with someone younger 16, unless they are older than half your age plus seven (the half+7 rule).

2. Don’t murder anyone. Abortion is never murder, nor is it murder if you kill a home intruder… but that isn’t an invitation to drag them down to your rape dungeon, which I hope you only have for consensual use.

3. While you’re not murdering people, don’t hurt people, either. Don’t punch people, don’t kick people, don’t slap, smack or spank people… unless it’s part of some weird sex thing, don’t hurt other people. Can I just point out at this point that perverts are really screwing up some of these rules?

4. Try not to be such a pervert. Save something for when you’re older, otherwise you’re going to end up hanging from a scarf dead in your closet with your pants around your ankles before someone you know finds you and has to stage it like a suicide. I’m not saying, “Don’t be a pervert,” but show some fucking restraint, literally.

5. Don’t steal.

6. Don’t damage other people’s things. If you damage someone else’s property, you should pay to fix it or replace it.

7. Do not make false accusations of criminal activity against someone.

8. Sometimes it’s easier to skip asking for permission and just ask for forgiveness. Smile, nod, then do what you want. Don’t break any of the prior rules in the process.

9. Encourage others to take the high road. It reduces traffic on the low road.

10. If you believe everything you read, it would be better for you to be illiterate.

Discussion: Republican Racism

Are Republican politicians as racist as they appear to be, or are they just courting the bigot vote out of desperation?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Snippet: Republicans

I was going to write a piece on the Republican debate tonight, but what’s the point? Criticizing Republicans is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. It’s easier than noticing fish in a barrel. It’s even easier than being near a barrel, since when was the last time you saw a barrel?

You Ever… #4

You ever have a dream where you’re driving your car from the back seat?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Word: Crassinine

Crassinine: to be obtusely stupid

The Atheist Community, aka “The Bubble”

There is a strange phenomenon among atheists, wherein many of them seem to think it’s either a good idea or even downright important that we form an “atheist community.”

Now… I see the appeal, and I even understand the need for a community to combat problems caused by religions… but I think it’s a foolish idea.

First off, I think John Loftus hit the nail on the head when he said, “[T]here is no atheist community. There are only atheist communities.” This astute observation actually solves one problem immediately, and I wonder if perhaps it comes from his Christian background. After all, there is no “Christian community,” only Christian communities.

I like the idea of many atheist communities much more than I like the idea of a monolithic concept like “The Atheist Community™.” It seems safer and it promotes island thinking, whereby different ideas can grow in isolation, resulting in a more robust ideology than can be achieved through a more centralized, all-inclusive group.

Plus… and I’m just being honest here… I don’t want anything to do with a lot of you. Yes, you. Please take offense, because it’s very personal. I just don’t like you as people. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten to know some of you so well, it might have worked out, but here we are. What I’m saying is… I liked some of you more when you were strangers. I’m sure that for some of you, the feeling is mutual (maybe more so, now that you know how I really feel).

My biggest problem with people wanting to be part of an atheist community is based on a little concept I hold near and dear to my heart. I think people who live in a bubble end up really warped. If you surround yourself with like-minded individuals who generally agree with you, you will turn into an intolerable asshole who is utterly out of touch with reality. I’m already an enormous douchebag, so I can’t afford to get any worse.

I call this problem “intellectual incest.” If you primarily engage in discourse with people who are all just like you, you will end up with anemic ideas that have hooves. Trust me on this. It’s just bad practice to indulge in such “comfort.” That’s often one of the reasons I see given for why communities are formed: comfort. Don’t ever get comfortable. I’m always on my toes; it makes me look taller.

The real reason to form a community is because you want to change something. The problem with most atheist communities I see is that they do nothing but sit around complaining about what religious people do. On a slow news day, they’ll bitch about absolutely anything.

I remember being blown away at the righteous indignation of atheists at a certain blog that found out a college had a “faith night,” where people got discount tickets to a basketball game if they shared what church they attended. Of all the problems facing the world today…

If I had been there and I wanted to go to that game at a discounted rate, I would have looked them in the eye and said, “I worship at the Jedi Academy,” or, “I have a shrine to Kurt Cobain in my closet,” or even, “I take Biology Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in room 204.” While I can’t test my theory, I’m willing to bet that I would have gotten the discount with any of those. No one wants to cause a scene, and if they make it a big deal, maybe then you can act upset (but realistically, it’s just a damn basketball game, it’s not the campus bookstore giving out a discount to Christians only or something).

Basically, atheists in these communities don’t care about actually living as an atheist, they just want to bitch. They want to sit around and wallow in their victimhood, moaning to all those who will listen, whining, “Woe is me.” They don’t want answers, they want to obsess about every possible problem they can imagine. And you wonder why I want nothing to do with a lot of you bastards…

But we do need watchdogs monitoring religion. Atheist communities can perform this function, but so can anyone who supports a secular society. That’s my goal; I don’t advocate on behalf of atheism, I support secularism. Secularism doesn’t exclude believers, and many religious people support secularism, because a religious society can ultimately only cater to one faith to the exclusion of others. The only people who support theocracies are people who are both convinced their religion will prevail and who are selfish pricks.

I want nothing to do with the atheist bubble. I read more blogs by religious people than I read of atheists. In fact, I come away from reading most religious blogs feeling like I learned something, whereas I come away from a lot of atheist blogs wishing there was a button on my keyboard that could give them an electric shock. I’ve been banned from two atheist blogs (for ideological differences, not for use of language), but never from a Christian one (and I’ve cursed at many Christians).

Ugh, and the reading lists of some of these atheists… it’s pathetic. How can you read that many books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and whoever else is a trendy atheist author these days? What could you possibly get out of someone who already agrees with you explaining why they think the same way you do? Seriously, I want to know. Are you unsure? Do you have questions about atheism? Did a Christian stump you? What is driving atheists to read that crap? Is it just because it’s there, and you feel obliged? Someone please tell me.

I lack this desire to be surrounded by a self-affirming culture that always agrees with me. That was what I was trying to avoid in religion, this insulated society apart from the whole that saw itself as superior. I don’t want any part of that atheism. I don’t believe in gods… and I don’t see why that means I should have to join something or buy a particular book.

And it’s not that I’m an individual, either. It’s not about doing my own thing, or being better than anyone. I certainly don’t feel left out. Again… I just really hate a lot of you. I cannot overemphasize how much contempt I have for most atheists.

Atheism isn’t enough by itself. It’s not even enough to believe an atheist community can fulfill you. Atheism isn’t a religion, but it is certainly as empty as one. You shouldn’t be tricked into thinking atheism is more than it is, because chances are, whoever says they want you to join them really just wants you to attend their meeting and maybe make a donation, or to buy their book.

Don’t try to form a community, form a cause. A community can sit around doing nothing for decades while entirely engrossed in itself, but a cause exists only to achieve something. You are better off chasing change than you are reclining in the familiar.

Response to a Comment on Homosexuality and Choice

I did a post recently about homosexuality and choice, and I got some interesting feedback. First, thanks to The Nerd for some support and corrections, since I certainly need it on this kind of topic. I’m pretty boring sexually, so it’s really reaching on my part when I try to write on this topic. I rely on the ideas of others on this matter, and the best I can do is synthesize all the opinions I have heard, so my personal ignorance creeps in frequently.

One comment I want to address in detail, and I figured I could do a whole post on it. The comment was left by Andrew, and is reproduced in whole below:

I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this.

As a man who is homosexual, I would certainly say that it does matter a great deal whether or not sexual identity and sexual preferences are genetic, hormonal, or chosen. I don't think it should matter in culture and morality, particularly not in Western Culture where freedom of choice is highly valued, but I can assure you that the knowledge that there exists very real evidence for a genetic influence on homosexuality offers me and many others a sense of relief. I feel better knowing that there isn't something I or anyone else did to make me turn out this way. Settled in that fact I feel more free to go about living my life as I choose. As far as being perceived as diseased, I see that as a non-issue. I will believe that homosexuality is a disease when being a redhead becomes classified as a disease.

If you will forgive my being so presumptuous, it seems to me that your (justified) hesitancy to embrace labeling people because of the harm that it does is causing you to outright reject the possibility that homosexuality might actually be a condition that people are predisposed to. Yes, culture has a very strong effect on how people perceive their own sexuality and how they act it out, but I doubt its effect on peoples' innate sexual desires. With regards to the claimants of chosen sexuality, an application of Occam's razor with my knowledge of culture and sexuality would suggest that these individuals are just bisexuals who have been repressed or otherwise neglected a portion of their sexuality.

I don't really know how to end this... so, um, I would love to hear your comments, thanks.

First off, thanks for the comment. Hopefully nothing I said upset you, because that’s wasn’t my intent. Also, I hope I didn’t appear to be claiming “all” people who identify as gay are a certain way. My intent was more to point out some concerns I have with the dogmatic nature of one particular claim coming from the gay community.

Let me be clear: I’m pretty confident in saying that most people who consider themselves gay don’t choose to be attracted to people of the same gender. I also would not be surprised if many people who have same-gender attraction wish they could stop (these are the ones I feel most sorry for of all). Hopefully it was clear that I’m not accusing gay people of a massive conspiratorial cover-up regarding homosexuality and choice.

Now, onto the actual concerns Andrew brought up…

I’ve stated so before (if I wasn’t so lazy, I would find the post), but I think the genetic defense argument is weak on many grounds. My principle concern is, suppose I was attracted to children. I didn’t choose to have that attraction, but acting on it is immoral. Or, I could be inclined to want to chop up women into little pieces and lay in a bathtub full of body parts.

The point isn’t that gay people are like pedophiles or serial killers, the point is that a lot of urges might not be choices, but if society thinks they’re wrong, we’re expected to suppress them. Homosexuality is harmless, unlike those other inclinations, so it’s okay to give in to those urges (at least, in my view). However, saying “I was born this way” is not justification for a behavior. It simply isn’t, I’m sorry. It’s a piss-poor, weak argument which has no place in public discourse.

Now that I have you thinking I compare gay people to child molesters… clearly I have endeared you to my side and I can continue.

I don’t know if there is or is not a link between homosexuality and genetics. It’s possible, I suppose, though I find it highly unlikely. Sexual attraction is a very complex emotional response to a whole host of chemical, visual and cultural stimuli. I don’t think genetics can code for whether I would prefer to play the guitar over the bass, or whether I will like beef more than pork. Then again, some people are genetically pre-disposed to be disgusted by the taste of cilantro, so I can see how the concept is possible.

I think it’s more likely (and most scientific research I have read on the matter seems to confirm) that things like sexuality may be heavily affected by hormones, especially the levels of those in the mother during pregnancy. Still, I would hate for this to be the case…

While many gay people say they take comfort in knowing it’s genetic or hormonal, I think it’s borderline scary. Suppose we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality is caused by genetics or hormones. What then? Will Christian parents abort their gay babies, or treat hormonal imbalances to ensure straight children? While you write off gay people being considered sick as a non-issue to you, it was a major problem for previous generations when homosexuality literally was defined and treated like a disease.

It’s not about whether you believe homosexuality is a disease, my friend. They don’t drag you off for shock treatment because you think you’re sick. I know you aren’t, but certain individuals who enjoy kneeling down in front of a scantily clad man with six-pack abs and arms outstretched just might.

I openly embrace the fact that people are often predisposed to homosexuality. Any amount of time studying biology will reinforce that fact, because no species I have ever heard of exhibits purely heterosexual tendencies. From apes to zebras, there are critters that prefer sexual relationships with members of their own gender across the whole animal kingdom. When people claim “homosexuality isn’t natural,” I’m very quick to point out how wrong they are. It’s 100% natural… I just question whether we can (or should) pin it all on genetics or hormones.

If I may be so bold, while you claim that certain types of people who choose to be gay are bisexual, I believe that everyone is bisexual. I have zero doubt that there is the potential in everyone to be attracted to the other sex. Certain cultures have ubiquitous homosexuality practiced by the entire population. In my eyes, that proves that there simply are no “straight” people. We as a culture make people straight.

My “straightness” is largely a condition of socialization. I have no doubt that if I was raised around more images of two men kissing, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable around it. I liken it to the way I reacted around a man and woman kissing when I was five. My perception of male-male sexuality is essentially stunted by a culture that does not depict such things, except in the context of humor, and in truth… I often laugh more than any other single response when presented with the image of two men kissing. It’s not socially acceptable to do that in some cases, so I might look away to prevent myself from giggling like a little child.

Why don’t I have the same stigma about female-female sexuality? Come on… do I have to spell it out for you? Our culture depicts lesbians as sexy. There’s nothing hotter than two chicks going at it… except maybe having them invite me in at the end (I only need 30 seconds, I swear).

Oy… this came out much more crudely than I intended.

Maybe that cleared things up. If not, feel free to call me out on my ignorance and I’ll give it another whirl.

Soundtrack to the 2012 Presidential Race

Ron Paul: Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2

Herman Cain: Dion – The Wanderer

Jon Huntsman: Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely

Rick Perry: 2pac – Me and My Girlfrend

Michele Bachmann: Heart – Crazy

Newt Gingrich: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird

Mitt Romney: Monster Magnet – Powertrip

Barack Obama: War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Snippet: Film Industry Pirates

The movie industry is upset about online piracy. Yep, the people who charge 15 dollars for two sodas and a popcorn are accusing the internet of theft.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten: Reasons for Supporting Ron Paul

10. He’s the only real Christian Republican candidate (Did you know Santorum and Gingrich are Catholic?!).

9. His interpretation of the First Amendment; he read, “Congress shall make no law,” and stopped.

8. Something, something, Federal Reserve, something…

7. Because fuck the environment.

6. I’m tired of eating in restaurants next to some coon.

5. I like his tax plan, because it saves me enough money to buy another private island.

4. A stray cat said Ron Paul will rescue me from the aliens in my fingernails.

3. *sound of water bubbling* What was the question, again, man? *cough*

2. All the guys in my frat like him.

1. I should be allowed to jerk off on my roof. It’s my roof, and if they have a problem with it, they should move the school.

Homosexuality and Choice: A Clandestine Relationship

I love the gay community, and I feel very comfortable saying so. Yet, I write this blog post to point out one of the things the gay community is totally wrong about: choice.

One of the cornerstone fallacies of the gay community for the last decade or two has been this idea that homosexuality is genetic. It’s actually one of the more unfortunate results of a hate campaign against homosexuality waged by conservatives for centuries, a sort of semi-harmless reaction to a very harmful prejudice.

No one is born homosexual. A lot of people may disagree, but I assure you that no child is born sexual at all, either homosexual or heterosexual. Sex doesn’t even enter into the mind of a newborn. You have to think in very Freudian terms in order to twist reality to the point of injecting sexuality into the life of a young child, and it doesn’t in any way truly resemble what we have come to think of as sexuality.

The biggest problem with homosexuality is that it is a completely invented term. Homosexuality was a disease thought up by 19th century psychologists, and it’s not real. Homosexuality is not a real thing, and it’s only use is in differentiating types of relationships for the purposes of morally judging them against the standards of religious bigotry.

I imagine it may seem trivializing, but I liken heterosexuality to vegetarianism. They’re very similar, in many ways. I see both as matters of taste. If you are raised to think meat is bad, or simply came to that conclusion on your own, then you may feel repulsed by someone eating a plate of steak next to you. I’m honest enough to admit I am a bit off-put by two men kissing, but I think their right to do so trumps my right to feel comfortable in all settings. If it is really bothering me, I generally just solve the “problem” by looking away (oh, the horror).

Sexuality is very heavily influenced by culture. Many cultures have practiced near universal homosexuality (like the ancient Greeks). However, taking the Greeks as our prime example, it’s not that they encouraged people to “be gay.” They didn’t think of sexuality in those terms, because they did not see homosexual acts as fundamentally immoral. Sure, some men of that time preferred the company of other men, but most had wives and children while also having had (and often continuing to have) homosexual relationships.

It would have been not only uncommon, but strange for a young man to forgo taking an older male lover during his adolescence. These men you see yelling about the evils of homosexuality in protests and in political debates today would have all fooled around with an older guy in their youths, and would take a young lover or two or three in their adult lives, had they been born in Greece, circa 400 BCE.

Every single one of them would have, I can be sure of it, because the same men who defended the institution of pederasty in Greece are the exact same types of men who demonize homosexuality today: defenders of tradition. Most people are helpless against the forces of social norms, and sex is no different. If your sexuality is this dependent upon the culture you grew up in, then I hate to say it, but… it’s not your sexuality.

It’s a tough situation. “Gay” people have been coached for years now to really own their sexual identity, but I think it’s pointless (or possibly even foolish) to do so. You should feel confident and free to choose to be with whoever you want, but I don’t believe in “gay” or “straight” people. I would prefer to think only of relationships as gay or straight; I don’t like identifying people by something as frivolous as their sexual proclivities.

If we’re just labeling people based on highly personal sexual preferences, I guess you can consider me a cowgirlist, though I usually finish as a doggy-stylist… and that’s why I don’t like defining people based on sexual details: way too much information.

I have this feeling that in the heat of battling all those who hate homosexuality, people supporting sexual tolerance have latched onto this fallacy that homosexuality must be genetic. It almost makes sense; who you are attracted to is not under your conscious control… so it must be genes. No one would ever “choose” to be gay, not with all the prejudice they face, right?

Except, some do. You can’t deny these people their sexuality by defining it for them based on some group’s political needs.

In fact, from my scientific understanding, homosexuality is not “genetic” at all, but may be hormonally influenced in some cases. I’m more inclined to just assume it is an “accident,” or a “fluke,” or some other less-offensive sounding term for “it just fucking happened, get over it already.”

Part of why I don’t like the propagation of the fallacy of homosexual genetics is because it paints a false picture of sexuality. The idea that people are “born gay” (or “born straight”) ignores several truths, like that some people change their preference as they get older, or that many people are attracted to both men and women.

Then you have the problem of gender not being as black and white as we imagine. Am I gay or straight if I’m attracted to someone who is a hermaphrodite? What about if I was born a man, but I feel like a woman, so I get surgery and hormone therapy to change my gender, and then, in the end, I’m attracted to women? Am I a lesbian, or just a straight man with tits?

Another problem with linking homosexuality to genetics is that it makes homosexuality look like some sort of genetic disease or hormonal imbalance. Is that what the gay community wants, to be once again minimized to the level of “disease” or “genetic disorder?” I imagine not, and yet they seem to see no way forward in the fight for equal rights, except by sticking to the story that they were “born this way.”

Homosexuality is not wrong, and it doesn’t matter one iota whether a person chose to enter into a homosexual relationship or not. It doesn’t matter whether a person’s preferences are the result of an accident of birth or culture, or if it is a conscious choice.

The reason homosexuality should be acceptable is because it’s harmless, and that’s really all there is to it.

Snippet: Political Outsider

Republicans have a strange obsession with supporting people who sell themselves as “political outsiders,” especially ones who hate government and think it can’t achieve anything.

I wouldn’t hire a plumber who says he’s “not really sold on the idea of indoor plumbing,” or buy meat from a butcher who says he can’t stand “the burden of industry regulations.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Rule: Political Debates

During a political debate, every time a candidate says something that isn’t true, they should have to take a drink.

Pithy News 1/23/12

Jay Leno has upset Sikhs and the Indian government by joking that Mitt’s summer home is the Golden Temple. They reportedly find it offensive to be associated in any way with “some freak in a polygamist cult.”

Websites including Wikipedia and Reddit went dark on Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Teachers and Professors are reporting a record number of properly researched papers being turned in on Thursday.

Voters in South Carolina shocked the nation by voting Gingrich the winner of their primary. When asked why he was losing support, Romney said his reasoning changes day to day.

Mitt Romney has caved to pressure and will release his tax records for 2010 and estimates for 2011. As for why he opposed doing so initially, he said it wouldn’t support his message that the rich are taxed too much.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Part 4

[Continued interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]

BRET: Would you say you were a Christian if you would be killed otherwise?

DAN: Depends on the circumstances. If there were a way I could code my ideas into acceptable symbolic language and influence people better than by being dead, then there might be something to it.

BRET: Gun to your head right now. And you know the answer they’re looking for.

DAN: You say what gunmen want you to say, unless there are awful consequences. If the guns are not in the room, if there are just death threats, then you don’t say anything they want.

BRET: Is there any circumstance where you would die specifically for atheism?

DAN: Sure.

BRET: Really?

DAN: Yes. If it meant defending the right to free speech, the right to blaspheme, etc. Then it would be necessary to fight that kind of authoritarianism. So if they said, “Stop blogging or we’ll kill you,” I’d keep blogging.

BRET: But is being put to death fighting it?

DAN: Now, if they show up and are in the room with me, I’ll say whatever they want to stay alive! But if I ever get back to my blog... I’m just being honest here.

BRET: I wouldn’t even take a paper cut for atheism.

DAN: Speech acts with potential murderers are not under the same rules. But what you say to the world matters. The right to freedom of conscience is one of the few things worth dying for.

BRET: Does it?

DAN: Yes, it does.

BRET: I think it’s worth fighting for, but not really dying for.

DAN: Nietzsche has a wonderful line that I’ll paraphrase, “Die for our opinions? No, we do not hold them that strongly. Die for our right to them? Perhaps...” I think that’s the best combination of principle and honesty. It’s not atheism itself that’s worth dying for. It’s the right to freedom of conscience.

BRET: Right, but I think you’re analyzing an additional situations I wasn’t thinking about.

DAN: But “dying for” is different than “dying on account of.”

BRET: I wouldn’t just be a martyr for something, but I would fight with a chance of dying. But I see those as very different.

DAN: If I were in an oppressive country where they’d kill me for saying I was an atheist, I wouldn’t just futilely get myself killed.

BRET: I imagine not.

DAN: But I’d fight with the risk of death or speak out in ways that could be effectual in changing things, even if it meant possible death. In other words, there’s no point in dying just for the principle, there is a point in dying in a way that has hope of changing things.

BRET: I sometimes wonder if atheism needs a Jesus, someone they can point to as a paragon of self-sacrifice and principle.

DAN: We have one, it’s Socrates.

BRET: Psssh.

DAN: He predates Jesus even.

BRET: I don’t have a daemon inside me, so I can’t relate.

DAN: Philosophers for centuries have appealed to his model. It’s no small thing that he died for iconoclastic, dialectical, gadfly truth-telling, and except for the dialectical part, atheists are part of this tradition.

BRET: He didn’t even die for a noble principle, he died because he decided to adhere to the social contract.

DAN: Well, he was sentenced on principle. He antagonized the jury and refused to pander, even after being sentenced.

BRET: Right, but there were means of him escaping such injustice.

DAN: Yes, that was just the icing on top. Not only would he stand up in public for what was right, he would adhere to it privately to his own disadvantage. It solidified his unwavering commitment to principle. At least as he is heroized for us.

BRET: I dunno... I always took away from my reading of the Apology (assuming those are not just Plato’s ascribed words and ideas) that Socrates ultimately was adhering to the idea that he was a member of society and must abide by society’s laws. I see no such merit in just obeying. Sure, his words were those of a rebel, but he acted as a pawn.

DAN: Well, it’s the principle we cannot simply pick and choose which laws to follow.

BRET: We can though. We most certainly can, and people do. And some people are better for it.

DAN: Yes, it’s a problem with deontological thinking, but I wouldn’t accuse the deontologists for pawns.

BRET: By Socrates’ logic, Rosa Parks is a malcontent. I’ll side with Parks.

DAN: No, she’s a gadfly. The whole point of civil disobedience was to be willing to accept jail to break the laws, but not break the social order. The genius is that it showed the violence of the law, these peaceful people doing peaceful things being beaten and jailed---it made vivid the insane injustice of how the law was already treating them with its constraints on peaceful activities based on their color. The law was already beating them up and jailing them just without it looking like that, so they forced the law to do it explicitly and people came to realize those laws were unjust.

Also remember Martin Luther King Jr. was following a deontological view of Aquinas and Augustine that an unjust law was not a law. They could disobey an unjust law because it wasn’t really a law. But then they also accepted the penalties of the existing law. So they lived in the middle. They acted in accord with real law. But they accepted the punishments of the claimed law. It was a triumph of philosophy. It exposed the dissonance between real law and perverse law in a world-altering way. It’s moral genius.

BRET: These actions don’t exist in a vacuum, though. You need other factors at play.

DAN: Sure.

BRET: Like a way to disseminate information.

DAN: You need TV.

BRET: Right. If you don’t have a group behind you to publicize you, then any sacrifice you make is just... like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it.

DAN: Right, there would be no sound.

BRET: Oh there would be. Physics assures us.

DAN: There would be sound waves.

BRET: But we wouldn’t know, yeah.

DAN: No noises.

BRET: Who would win in a fight, Jesus or Mohammed, assuming they’re both human and the same age?

DAN: Mohammed. No context [typo on “contest,” but left due to serendipity].

BRET: Why’s that?

DAN: Because he was a conquering type, whereas Jesus only got rough with accountants.

BRET: True. We also would have accepted, “Because I don’t want death threats.”

DAN: (laughs) On second thought, Jesus.

BRET: Judges? We’ll accept it.

Would you rather heaven or hell be real? Only get to choose one. But not everyone goes there.

DAN: Heaven. Where does everyone else go?

BRET: Everyone else just disappears.

DAN: Heaven.

BRET: Aww. So no justice for Hitler.

DAN: There wouldn’t be justice in either case.


DAN: Hell is disproportionate punishment even for Hitler. It’s insanity. Oblivion is just fine for him.

BRET: If you say so... I think it can’t be worse than private schools. I bet you get used to it after a while. Like a hot tub.

DAN: Then it wouldn’t be hell, conceptually speaking.

BRET: I thought hell was just the absence of God? That just means hell is like my normal life.

DAN: So how is that justice for Hitler?

BRET: Well he was really religious. He would probably hate that. Plus we’ll put him in next to a few Jews.

DAN: (laughs) Next question!

BRET: If the world were proven to be ending in 2012 (let’s say a star was on a collision course and would eradicate everything), what would you do this year? We’ll say it happens in late December. So you have all year basically, though nothing you do will really matter...

DAN: I would do everything I already do. I’d just spend some more time with friends, but I’d still blog, I’d still teach.

BRET: Maybe cash-out your retirement?

DAN: My what?

BRET: Hehehe. Oh you poor educators.

DAN: I’d spend the last month with my parents

BRET: For the free food and laundry?

DAN: (laughs) Yes, for the free food and laundry.

BRET: Which would make a better series of movies, the Bible or the works of Homer? Obviously the Bible would be much longer, but still.

DAN: Having never read Homer it’s hard to say.

BRET: Okay scratch that then. What other mythology have you read?

DAN: Not much, just a few Greek myths. They are way better than anything in the Bible.

BRET: You’re breakin’ my balls. Okay then, New or Old Testament?

DAN: Morally, New. For the stories, Old.

BRET: You know I think Peter Jackson is directing a Noah movie. After the Hobbit, I believe.

DAN: Wasn’t Steve Carell in that?


DAN: After I saw that movie I woke up with this thought in my head that there must be a movie made called “There Will Be Flood.” Seriously I was certain of this for a few minutes.

BRET: Pick any person, living or dead, to be God.

DAN: Stephen Colbert.

BRET: The real Stephen or TV Stephen?

DAN: The real one.

BRET: Risky move... I don’t even know what he’s like.

DAN: He would be a benevolent, rational, and mischievous ruler

BRET: Would you rather choose someone you loved to live forever, or someone you hate to die?

DAN: Someone I loved to live forever. I’m not a hater.

BRET: Yeah, but what if living forever is horrible. And this would be a great way to finally just get rid of someone like Cheney. He’s so close anyway.

DAN: Then make someone I hate live forever.

BRET: Ha, perfect. Just be sure when you make the wish to claim you love that person. Or it might not work.

DAN: I’ll have my lawyer work out the details before I sign anything

BRET: Which religion currently being practiced do you think will disappear first?

DAN: It’s probably one none of us have ever heard of. Those we know are sticking around a while.

BRET: Well you have to pick one you have heard of. And Scientology is too easy.

DAN: Yeah. I think the Amish may not be able to hang on forever.

BRET: So true.

DAN: Sorry for your kids.

BRET: Do you think Amish people will be using iPads in 200 years? And sagging their pants? Or will they always be trapped in 1800?

DAN: They’ll just be integrated with everyone else. I don’t know, I have a gut feeling in the future it will be impossible to be trapped in 1800. I think technology is going to change life in ways we can’t yet cognize.

BRET: I dunno, I can imagine being a ball of energy.

DAN: But I don’t know what that means.

BRET: It’s like being a teen all over again.

DAN: Besides that, no one will be Amish anymore.

BRET: Last question, why do cartoon characters who never wear pants put on swimming trunks at the beach?

DAN: The same reason people who do wear pants put on swimming trunks instead at the beach. Why do normal people who wear shorts wear swimming suits instead? Whatever that answer is, is the answer.

BRET: Because they won’t let us swim naked?

DAN: And the same goes for cartoon characters.

BRET: Well the real reason we have to wear swimsuits is the netting. So our pubes don’t fill the pool. But cartoon characters are often covered in hair... and are at a beach, not a pool.

DAN: So all the MORE reason to wear swimming suits! Okay, my Chinese food is here.

BRET: Nice talking to you.

DAN: You too, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for indulging me all afternoon.

BRET: Enjoy your Chinese.

Two Dudes: Diabetes

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Discussion: Pray For Me?

If someone tells you they’ll “pray for you,” when they know you’re an atheist, does it bother you, make no difference, or make you feel good?

Saturday Reflection #65

Freud said a joke is the death of an emotion, but I have a feeling he just had bad timing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Part 3

[Continued interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers from Part 1 and part 1 and Part 2]

BRET: I sometimes wonder if atheism should go corporate and adopt an iPad strategy. Basically, atheists should not let new atheists join for a while, make it exclusive, because what makes religion appealing to people is that they see it as cool, quite often. It’s still too easy for people to claim they’re an atheist.

DAN: I think natural selection has made it that way already.

BRET: There’s still too many atheists embarrassing the rest of us.

DAN: I don’t think you’re making any sense. It’s pretty hard to identify as an atheist and no one thinks religion is cool.

BRET: Not really.

DAN: Not even religious people. Religion is clearly the anti-cool. And it reaches its height of anti-cool when it tries to be cool.

BRET: No, no, no... okay I see the problem. You’re listening to religion like they aren’t lying. Religion is the cool thing, everywhere, especially for young kids. The kids who feel left out in high school aren’t Christians who all hang out at church together.

DAN: Maybe it’s popular but that’s different than cool!

BRET: It’s the one Jewish kid and the handful of Catholic kids and the vaguely eastern kid who are left out and feel uncool.

DAN: Well that’s a different thing than cool.

BRET: I dunno... if religion isn’t cool, then Tim Tebow should be a loser.

DAN: That’s a matter of in-group and out-group.

BRET: But the in-group is always cool, the out-group is always not.

DAN: Cool is too much about an understated, defiant independence.

BRET: Maybe in the 1950s.

DAN: Cool people wouldn’t be caught dead being religious.

BRET: Are you kidding? Religious people smoke cigarettes and ride motorcycles, too. The guys on the football team are not a bunch of atheists. The cheerleaders aren’t atheists.

DAN: Yeah and then they start talking Jesus and become completely uncool.

BRET: Well, I’m not saying you be Ned Flanders religious.

DAN: So there is conformity cool.

BRET: But there’s that cool level of religious. Right.

DAN: And there’s non-conformity cool. I only see non-conformity cool as really cool. Conformity cool is simply popularity. But that’s semantics.

BRET: You don’t see any value in popularity?

DAN: Popularity because you’re non-conforming cool is awesome.

BRET: Sometimes...

DAN: Popularity because you’re conforming cool is corrupt.

BRET: It may be corrupt, but the world is run by popular, corrupt people.

DAN: Right. That doesn’t make it good.

BRET: I guess it depends what you rebel against.

DAN: Yes, we should conform to true virtues and to many normal social standards that have good reasoning behind them. If you want to call that “conformity,” okay. But we shouldn’t conform as conformists.

BRET: Right, you’re a philosopher, you care about what’s good or right. I’m more of a pragmatist.

DAN: We should conform as cool people who know why the right is right and who don’t conform otherwise.

BRET: But most people are too dumb for that... I’m talking about manufactured scarcity which increases demand. Like a club that only lets in a few people, and pretty soon it’s the coolest place to be.

DAN: Right.

BRET: I know it’s impractical and impossible. But I like the idea.

DAN: Yes, I am not interested in atheism becoming popular at all costs.

BRET: Not popular, per se... maybe just 51% of the population.

DAN: Either it’s because people are developing rationalistic virtues or other virtues, or it’s not making anything better that they’re atheists.

BRET: True, there’s nothing inherently better about being atheist.

DAN: Not at all.

BRET: That’s sort of the rub.

DAN: Yeah.

BRET: But if there are going to be dumb people in the world, I still would like them on my side. You know, to send out in the front line.

DAN: (laughs) But the problem is that being an atheist does not mean they will be on your side on much else. There are some anti-social atheists like Ayn Rand.

BRET: Only some?

DAN: Right.

BRET: I’ll add Hitchens to that, since he thinks nothing of going to war, so long as we are only slaughtering Muslims.

DAN: I prefer a pro-social theist who refrains from chatting me up about Jesus to an anti-social atheist who won’t shut up about how selfish he’s entitled to be. Hitchens is a tough case. He helped me go full lion as an atheist. It’s hard for me to accept his hyena tendencies.

BRET: I know atheists have a boner for him, but that one issue is a huge turn off for me.

DAN: Yes, I understand.

BRET: I have the same feelings on Carlin.

DAN: I’ve never much liked Carlin. Back to my religious days when I thought he was an acerbic jerk. Now I see him as too cynical.

BRET: He’s the source of my least favorite atheist meme, that religion starts all wars.

DAN: He says some profound stuff and a lot of cynical, cry baby, anti-pragmatic, misanthropic stuff. I really hate misanthropes. In fact, I almost wrote about this but shelved the post. When you wrote that post attacking me over interfering with your “rowdy kids” table.

BRET: (laughs)

DAN: With all my “don’t call religious people stupid” stuff.

BRET: I wrote about rowdy kids tables and not calling religious people stupid? On your blog or mine?

DAN: Something like that. Hold on.

BRET: I can see not calling religious people stupid... but a religious person I might call stupid.

DAN: Link

BRET: “Religious people are stupid.” Verbatim. Right in the middle of the post.

DAN: So you were explaining why it was fine for me to be all philosophical but I shouldn’t pick on people like you who had a place by picking food fights or something. Apparently you didn’t use that phrase.

BRET: I did a find for “food.” Okay, I found it now.

DAN: You wrote, “But maybe you, and all other atheists who deign to bless the atheist blogosphere with your intelligent discourse, may come to see those of us eating at the rowdy table as valuable allies, every bit as important as you are. Not more, not less, just equally important for the role we play, for we have different skills, and we apply them in ways I doubt you could even stomach.”

BRET: I’m sure that week I was sick of atheists acting high and mighty.

DAN: I was the atheist in question! But it’s alright because I absolutely loved the post because throughout it, you assiduously called me Dr. Fincke.

BRET: My wife would kill me if I didn’t [she has a PhD].

DAN: You probably wrote that as much as anyone has in the first year and a half since I got the degree. And people calling me Mr. Fincke had me all pouty just weeks before. And so you proved my point. People will be much more open to criticism if you pay them that respect.

BRET: My wife would be like, “He didn’t finish his PhD for you to insult him and not call him doctor.”

DAN: You know, when you said your wife had a PhD I realized that might have been the root of your respect.

BRET: I interviewed a guy who wanted me to call him “Your Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist,” and I was happy to do it. So I’m fine with titles.

DAN: (laughs) One time I started a criticism of a religious friend by saying, “Look, man, you’re a savvy guy…

BRET: But...

DAN: …in fact, I bet if both of us were buying cars, you’d be far shrewder and more skeptical and do a better job of not getting ripped off…

BRET: But...

DAN: …so why don’t you see what I’m saying about taking that shrewdness to all your beliefs.” And that conversation went a long way from there. He was more than willing to play.

BRET: Hehehe. People are so easily flattered.

DAN: They are! And they like you when you do it, as long as you don’t make it too obvious.

BRET: When I hear flattery, I hold my wallet tightly.

DAN: But we’re talking about dissuading the credulous, not the cynical. So, why not appeal to the religious’ virtues and their highest conception of themselves? And if you find contradictions in that, you threaten their vanity in a far deeper way than telling them what they already know---that their beliefs sound silly to outsiders.

BRET: I think they relish in that. Both the silliness and the criticism.

DAN: Sometimes. Any defense mechanism in a storm.

BRET: They see it as “their cross.”

DAN: Right. I’m not saying to be disingenuous, mind you, but look on the bright side of the person you’re engaging.

BRET: I think the best way to engage a religious person is to quote their holy book. They eat that shit up.

DAN: I think you need to actually be more dialectical than that. Just ask questions; why this? Why that? What does that mean? Oh I see, but then wouldn’t that mean this?

Internal contradictions are much harder to just dismiss, and it is a good strategy to focus first on non-controversial stuff, like skepticism in general and interesting philosophical questions, before applying skepticism and hard philosophy to the beliefs they have irrational, religious attachments to.

BRET: You would probably know more than I, since I don’t think anyone became an atheist because of me since high school. But man, I cleaned up back then. I got the guy who walked me down the aisle as my sponsor for Confirmation.

DAN: (laughs)

BRET: I just peaked early.

DAN: Well I have no idea if anyone’s become an atheist through my influence. I take that back, I’ve gotten a couple e-mails, but really it’s hard to know what to take credit for.

BRET: Jealousy becomes me...

DAN: And frankly, I wouldn’t want to take credit for things like that.

BRET: Take credit for all of it, who cares. You’re too kind, sir.

DAN: I’m all for taking credit for things, but not for how someone thinks. That’s creepy. I just want to know I helped someone think. I don’t want to think I made them think anything, if that makes sense.

BRET: Can someone make someone think something? I get what you’re saying, though. I just question if it’s possible.

DAN: Sure it is.

BRET: If you open a door and they walk through, then... you didn’t make then enter.

DAN: Right, that’s what I want to do.

BRET: But if the door was locked before, you can take credit for letting them in.

DAN: I want people to see me as an awesome door opener to ideas, but that the ideas convince them.

BRET: I suppose.

DAN: I guess I don’t like when people change their mind because of the personality of their conveyor.

BRET: You have to invite atheism into your heart, right? Only you can do so...

DAN: Ugh. (laughs)

BRET: Hehehe. Is it just me, or do charismatic Christian leaders have more success than charismatic atheists?

DAN: There are charismatic atheists?

BRET: I hear Hitchens was one.

DAN: That’s one, you used the plural.

BRET: Maybe Dawkins or Harris or one of the others I don’t know about. Honestly, I don’t know many, because I don’t read their stuff, so I wouldn’t know if they’re “charismatic.” But they have a larger than average following.

DAN: Seriously, it’s apples and oranges.

BRET: Okay, so why do Christians corner the market on apples when some people clearly don’t like oranges? Why isn’t there a red-faced, screaming atheist?

DAN: I think Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers have an understanding of how to “activate” atheists. It’s like the atheists have all the pieces in their minds already. Or a certain kind of person that could be an atheist. And there is just something in the way they put it together that just flips the switch and suddenly they have a consciousness of the evils of religions. They just get it.

Nietzsche flipped that switch for me, or he flipped a different switch that made me an atheist. Then Harris and Hitchens flipped another switch that made me a New Atheist. It’s hard to spell this out in my case, because I was already the guy fighting with everyone about religion but I felt no support and had no atheist community and was probably more philosophical and more willing to be deferent to religious people in certain ways. I knew cognitively I was right but still felt the need to justify to Christians why I had foresaken the faith.

That’s the thing the New Atheists crushed in me. They crushed that last emotional delusion.

BRET: Do I want to know what “New Atheism” is? I have heard of it obviously but...

DAN: That’s a word coined in a 2006 article (I think in Wired) to describe the brand of atheism of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett when they all came out with hit books on atheism in a short span of time. It’s expanded to be a word for atheists who have no intellectual tolerance for religiously derived ideas.

BRET: I know it’s associated with at least the first three of those names. Is it like grunge, where there’s no real cohesion, just an accident of timing?

DAN: It was a ground up movement, I think. But it’s gaining coherence.

BRET: I don’t read much atheist stuff because it drains me. I come away from a lot of atheist blogs wondering if I want to be an atheist, whereas when I read anything religion related, I come away very much confident of atheism. I used to wonder if I was just contrary, but I find pro-atheist snippets here or there that make me think, “Damn, that is brilliant.”

DAN: I know my temperament is always to look for a better question so I can make a new distinction. When I’m reading atheists, it’s their stuff that I want to add qualifications to.

BRET: Because we make so many damn errors...

DAN: It’s not about being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism. Not for me. But it’s about being persistently dialectical. Everyone — whether atheist, theist, or whoever else - is always too simple. There’s always another dialectical move to make. The best thinkers don’t let us stop thinking, they just move the ball so that our own thinking can pick up further down the field.

But it’s up to us no matter what we read to then figure out its antithesis and go there and then to find the synthesis and then the next antithesis. This is how we think best, both on our own and in community. So when I’m immersed in atheist blogs and atheist comments on my site, I start fighting with atheists. It’s healthy. And I can be a good atheist blogger because I love atheists and want atheism to succeed.

BRET: Hmm... it’s almost Godlike. You love them, so you must smite them. Or parentlike.

DAN: Not at all. I’m one of them. I just mean that no matter how critical I might be towards things atheists do I am delighted to be on their team.

BRET: Ugh, but I don’t want to imagine being on the same team as these people.

DAN: It’s a central identity thing for me. I mean, like I said, a given atheist could be as off putting as anyone else. And I prefer a theist who is a good person to an atheist who is a bad person. But in general, my group affiliations are with fellow atheists. I feel a kinship. And so if it’s an awful theist and an awful atheist, I’ll like the awful atheist a little more.

BRET: Fair enough. I somehow managed to be an atheist for about 15 years now without ever feeling like part of a group.

DAN: Yes. That’s very normal.

BRET: So the idea of atheism as a cohesive unit both excites and terrifies me. On one hand, WOO, on the other hand, MAO.

DAN: I never knew it was possible either until the internet. In fact, I was using the internet a long time before it ever dawned on me to find other atheists. Only when I decided to start a blog and finally dispel all the ignorance in the world did I discover that there was already this whole community on the case. It was like, “Oh.”

BRET: Hehehe

DAN: That was as recent as June 2009! My prior blogging was much less ambitious and much less frequent. In 2009 I decided I wanted to write a widely read blog and get serious about doing that.

BRET: I think I started then too... unless you count 7 posts from July of 2007 through December. I feel like blogging was on the decline by then. [Note: my actual first full year: 2008, not 2009]

DAN: Depends on how epic those posts were.

BRET: Not very. Some goodbye to Carlin and then probably half of the rest was fiction, since I used to write fiction.

DAN: Yeah, Class of ‘09. It’s a good class. Jen McCreight started that year, too. A lot of blogs seem to have started then. Any given year I guess most blogs will seem to have come from the last couple years since few people really stick with it.

[Part 4]

Black March

Truth, Justice, and the Atheist Way

My talk with Dr. Daniel Fincke had me thinking about Nietzsche, truth, justice and Superman.

Superman was one of my favorite heroes when I was a little kid. I had Superman pajames, and I mean the good kind: the kind that look like Superman’s costume, not the kind that just have pictures of Superman on them. I really internalized his tagline: “fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.” I never much understood what “the American way” was, and I’m still not sure I know, but I have always been more interested in truth and justice.

Atheists seem to love truth, or at least get very offended by the misuse of the term. I see a lot of criticism coming from atheists about how religion is inaccurate, nonfactual, mythical, unverified, full of lies, and basically wrong. I suppose this is fair, but it doesn’t much matter to religious people. Still, the veracity of a statement is very important to a lot of atheists… just not me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against truth, but there is a fundamental difference between truth and justice. Truth is essentially a matter of knowledge, but justice is a matter of action. If I were forced to pick one over the other, I would pick justice every time. I know that what drove me away from religion was not that it was untrue, but that it was unfair.

Unlike truth, justice is something we are all capable of determining. Truth is tricky; the truth is a narrow road, the narrowest imaginable. It is like a two dimensional line, and it has no leeway. The truth is subject to an unforgiving paradox: anything you add to the truth will also subtract from it.

Justice, however, is very forgiving. Justice has a lot of leeway. Justice can be defined any way we choose, and each of us has our own slightly nuanced view. Justice is a concept malleable enough to be purely subjective, and yet we all acknowledge its existence. It’s very similar to beauty, in this respect.

In fact, we’re all born with an innate sense of justice. Every little kid has whined, “That’s not fair,” usually because they wanted something. Luckily, most of us develop beyond this simplistic, egotistical view of justice.

I personally believe all laws, morality, and religion derive from our innate desire for justice. Even when the actual application of this concept results in laws, morals or religions that are clearly unjust, one can be sure that it seemed fair to someone for some reason at some point.

This is sort of where truth comes in. By my estimation, justice is often impossible without the truth. Then again, truth is often pointless without justice. In some ways, justice is truth in action.

If truth is the god of atheism, then justice would be the religion. But truth makes for a horrible god. For one thing… truth exists. Sure, we can’t always detect it, or even feel it there, but we know that logically, there must be truth, because truth is little more than what is. Truth doesn’t care about us, nor does it feel anything for us. And despite what you’ve heard, the truth will not set you free, nor will it save you (really, the truth can only reveal the chains that bind you; truth merely reveals the extent to which you are not free, and it is up to you to free yourself).

Justice makes a much better god. Justice sort of resides in each one of us, and we all know justice differently. Justice concerns itself with the activities of the gods, like judgment and doing what is right. People have faith in justice. Justice makes us feel good (unless you’re on the receiving end). When was the last time the truth made you feel good?

Justice makes for a much better god, or if you would prefer not to use the term “god,” pick one of the following: spirit, idol, goal, ideal, principle, imperative, or ethos. Justice should be at the center of everything we do, even when we don’t have the whole truth.

Sometimes, the only just thing for us to do is admit we don’t have the truth. In many ways, I value doubt more than truth. I would obviously much rather have truth than doubt, but I would rather have doubt than be wrong.

I can’t say I see many atheists talking about truth itself, at least in the affirmative. On a great many things, I can find a literal army of atheists willing to attack certain things as being untrue, but trying to find consensus among atheists is futile. Atheists have not come together under truth, but under doubt.

If you never studied Nietzsche, you’re not alone. I mean… I have, but I know there are a lot of you unread philistines out there who have “lives” and “friends.” Perhaps one of the most recognized ideas of Nietzsche (besides the idea that “God is dead”) is that of the Superman, or Übermensch.

Quite unlike the comic book Superman, the Übermensch doesn’t come from a distant planet. The Übermensch comes from us, and is the realization of our potential as human beings to surpass humanity. The Übermensch is not held back by traditional human failings, and is a sort of romanticized ideal which has yet to be achieved.

The concept of the Übermensch has a very religious path through history. Like any good religion, it was taken out of context and used to justify horrible atrocities. The eugenic practices of the Nazis were influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Even the original comic depiction was sinister. The first mention of Superman was as a villain in 1933’s “The Reign of the Superman.” Even when the character was re-imagined as a hero, he had questionable morals. Over time, he evolved into the paragon of morality we know today. I think Nietzsche would have been proud.

One of the more strange questions I get quite frequently from theists pertains to how I can live without believing in something greater than myself. The truth is, I believe in many things greater than myself…

I believe in truth. I believe in justice, which is even more important than truth. But most importantly, I believe in humanity. Certainly not all of it, but I’d like to think I believe in enough of it, and I most certainly believe in our collective potential to do great things.

To me, that’s the atheist way, because there’s no God to judge us and set everything right after we die. We can’t blame god and demons as atheists; we have to assume responsibility. Superman isn’t going to save the day. It’s up to us to be the heroes we need.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today Has Been Weird

Today has been a weird animal day. First, on my way to get breakfast this morning, I saw a dog hit by a car. It ran into the road and got hit right in the head, then it spun like a top. I turned around as fast as I could and went back to look for it, and I found it dead on the side of the road. It had a collar with tags.

She was a charcoal pit bull with a white belly. Her name was Pepper, and I waited by her body until the owner came. He lifted her body up, kissed her, and put her in the front seat of his truck. We both started crying. I’m crying again, remembering it.

So that was a depressing way to start my day.

Then, less dramatically, my dogs cornered a feral cat in our backyard. This isn’t too uncommon. The cat got away unscathed, as usual, but my coonhound, Max (not the one pictured in my avatar), got scratched on the muzzle a few times. He just needed a wiping down with a wet paper towel and he was ready to go again, though. He’s had the cat holed up under our shed since then.

Today has been a rough day to be a dog, I guess.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Actually Protest Something

Since someone decided to make today the day to protest SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and internet censorship in general, I felt like I should do something… but I’m not going along with the “blackout.”

For one thing, the way to get the word out isn’t to remain silent for a day (or even loud for a day). Seriously… think for just a second about what people are proposing: there is a problem, and they think the solution is to stop using tools that spread information for a day…

No, that’s not how you get things done, my fellow freedom of speech advocates. It’s an amusing gesture, and hopefully it works well as a PR stunt, but a voluntary blackout won’t change much.

I support all forms of free speech, even screaming “Fire” in a crowded theater (we ought to be able to civilly evacuate without trampling people like animals… plus, with online piracy, theaters aren’t that crowded anymore). However, people should fight this sort of thing by speaking up, not silencing certain corners of the internet for a day (and too be fair, many are).

I think the best way to fight this is to boycott products by companies who support censorship. I’ve done this for years regarding many issues, including free speech, and I have a long list of places I won’t shop (like Wal-Mart) or brands I won’t buy (like Dixie Cups or Brawny paper towels) because I don’t want my money to going to certain types of people. It’s really my own personal thing, and I’m not going to advocate on behalf of my own choices, but where you spend your money matters, and if people did this in a large group over a period of time, you would be surprised at the effect.

If you really want to hit censors where it hurts, you need to aim for their wallet. For example, here is a list of the 358 companies who support SOPA. If you actually want to send a message that we don’t want censorship, you need to send that message to the censors by hurting their bottom line and not buying their products.

Personally, I’m not worried. On all issues of alarmism, I am an optimist. I find it to be a very tenable position to take against all those who run around like Chickenlittle, clucking about how the sky is falling. Catastrophe is rarely right around the corner, and when a large group of people think they see it coming, I can be almost assured that it is not. Disaster almost always comes quietly and unannounced, usually disguised as an old friend.

The freedom we have come to know and love on the internet is not going to disappear, that much I know. It may become illegal, it may move underground, but it will always be there, lurking in the deepest recesses of non-US servers. Just as the drug war has not made drugs disappear, no censorship bill will make free speech a thing of the past.

There will be more innocent victims of a misused legal system than there already are if bills like SOPA pass, and that’s really what I oppose in these sorts of things. However, there’s no real danger of a blacked out internet. Even those in China have found numerous ways around their nation’s Great Firewall, a measure I don’t expect in America. You just have to ask yourself: do you honestly think people won’t be able to outsmart the government?

I hope none of this bullshit legislation passes, but when something like it does one day (and I’m confident it will, eventually… there’s too much money behind it to go ignored), know that there will be plenty of time to attack and remove a harmful measure before the whole world crumbles around us.

I will say this in support of the events today: I like this spirit of anti-censorship. While I doubt this protest will accomplish anything in its own right, I really hope it brings the issue to the attention of those who will act.

Interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Part 2

[Continued interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers from Part 1]

BRET: I remember you did a post a while ago asking if atheists “worshiped” truth, at least as much as you can worship such a thing. Did you come away agreeing with that?

DAN: No, Eric Steinhart wrote that post.

BRET: I am horrible at checking by-lines.

DAN: I think the question should be framed differently than he did to get atheists not to reflexively reject the proposition without thinking. I think the real question is this:

If empirically it were demonstrable that certain falsehoods are necessary for certain people and the societies in which they live to optimally function, would we accept that those falsehoods were for the best for those people?

Or do we prioritize truth as such an intrinsic good that we’d rather let the world burn or the alcoholic who’s got an iron grip on his higher power die than let him have his fiction undisturbed?

And if we do hold truth to be valuable even where it hurts human happiness or (worse, to me) human flourishing, then it seems like we are treating it as more sacred and more valuable than is rationally warranted and you know what the word for THAT is...

BRET: Oh, right, religion. Almost missed my cue.

DAN: And a related question is whether atheists have faith in truthfulness, (do we have more belief than evidence warrants?) that truthfulness is itself a greater good than other competing values in every sphere of life.

Obviously it’s better in science and so creationists need to be fought. I think I have good reasons it is better philosophically. And we Identity-Atheists tend to be bound up with valuing truth passionately and feeling it to be the highest moral priority in all personal and philosophical matters.

So, is that tantamount to having faith in it, to holding it sacred, to being irrationally hostile to other virtues when they rival it and closed minded to any empirical facts that might threaten our belief in its wonder working powers?

Those are hard questions. I think those were what Eric was asking. It’s what Nietzsche asks a lot.

BRET: It seems short sighted to focus only on truth, especially when a lie may help the truth. And I don’t mean lying to appear correct when you know you’re right, or telling your wife she doesn’t look fat. I mean, maybe religion is a good thing for a discipline like science.

It gives people a place to go to be religious; could you imagine if religion just disappeared? Science would be overrun by dogmatic fools. Religion can almost serve as an adult day-care.

DAN: (laughs) Your ideas always surprise me, Bret.

BRET: Religion keeps those who might ruin science out.

DAN: Or it makes capable minds scientifically illiterate.

BRET: No doubt, but it also gives us a sort of Plato’s cave for the best and brightest to escape.

DAN: That’s true, and I wouldn’t be who I am without first escaping a cave. Nietzsche himself muses in an unpublished note that it might be best to give kids a religious training when they’re young because the rigor is good and the process of apostasy would be good for them. I’m not sure what in that is Nietzsche and what is just my interpretation, but that’s close.

BRET: And that’s why I’m raising my kids Amish.

DAN: Let’s look at three hypothetical people:

Let’s say that each has an equally full life of pleasure and personal flourishing in all the ‘secular” areas of life. Family, money, power, respect, physical and intellectual accomplishments, friends, etc.

So you have these three equally pleased and flourishing people.

BRET: Do they have to be pleased, or can they be equally depressed?

DAN: All that matters is their pleasure total is the same, whether low or high.

BRET: Okay.

DAN: Now let’s say that one of these three people has a practically delusional, ecstatic religious life that does not interfere with his pleasure and flourishing in any of the other areas. He is as ethical, as humane, as shrewd in business, as creative in artistic endeavors, as great a friend and family member, etc. as the other two. He just has this sphere of his life where he gets a surge of extra pleasure from his delusions.

BRET: Are they all equally pleasant to be around?

DAN: Yes

BRET: Okay.

DAN: So, the same way someone can keep their escapes into movies and novels and other fantasies totally separate from interfering with life functioning, let’s say this person keeps their religious delusions and superstitions equally tidily contained. All they lack is truth in one area of life. In the rest of life, they have as much truth as anyone and the net gain is immense pleasure and sense of identity, etc. Now, let’s say there is an atheist who has everything the same but instead of faith-based delusions some truthful endeavor (or fictions known to be fictions) fill the same role the religious delusions play for the religious person. In those two cases, I think the atheist wins because the pleasures are equal AND the bonus is truth.

BRET: This third person better be a heroin addict or something.

But, yeah, let’s take an atheist who is flourishing and pleased in all those areas but the pain of seeing the truth makes that side of him miserable and so even though he’s as pleased as the others in all these other areas of his life, there’s also this dragging net loss that could only be more pleasant if he could only believe.

Now, assuming a lot---that the delusional beliefs don’t have a net negative beyond himself---is he better off than our ecstatically delusional, but utterly functional believer?

BRET: Does a person’s happiness matter?

DAN: That’s the question. Can happiness trump truth in our values ever? For me, I believe that we should aim towards maximal human flourishing, not maximal human pleasure. I’m willing to bite the bullet and say we should all prefer truth even with less pleasure. That’s a really high priority for either truth or, in my case, human perfection.

That came out wrong, I didn’t mean to suggest in my case that I’m perfect! I meant I prioritize total human power as the highest good, not any specific virtue. So for me enough other virtues taken together might make one person without the truth a better person than another who has less virtues.

If someone found the immersion in the delusion made it all the more effective at enhancing his life without detracting from real world functionality, is that for him a fantastic accomplishment of self-hypnotism and balancing competing goods and getting the most out of them?

It’s like taking a drug if it does not damage your overall functioning, it’s just a pleasure boost. Drugs are lies. Our pleasures should track goods.

BRET: Drugs aren’t lies...

DAN: The drug tells you you’re ecstatic when there’s no good reason to be ecstatic. So it makes you ecstatic in a way that does not help you navigate truth.

BRET: There’s a damn good reason you’re ecstatic---you took a drug. That’s classic cause and effect.

DAN: Right, but our brains are set up to reward us for success. If we can short circuit that and just feel good by manipulating our brain chemistry, we cheat.

BRET: Drugs don’t enter the body and whisper, “Hey, you got a promotion, feel good.”

DAN: But if it does not hurt overall functioning or make us less inclined to pursue worthier pleasures from worthier accomplishments then why not add the extra pleasure? So what happens if you swap out “drug” for “god”?

BRET: Opiate of the masses, eh?

DAN: Sure. Sports, too. My ecstasies over some baseball games are comparable to religious ecstasies.

BRET: You know... every mean thing they say about religion you can apply to sports.

DAN: Exactly.

BRET: And in many cases sports are worse. I never heard of a Baptist hooligan riot.

DAN: (laughs) It’s vicarious. You feel like you’ve won something great when you’ve done nothing but sit on the couch getting fat.

BRET: Or lost. I don’t know which is harder on a city, to win or lose.

DAN: So there are pleasures which distract us from developing our virtues or which reward us when we didn’t do anything that merited reward.

BRET: But why even value truth in that way? Truth doesn’t need us, truth exists whether we even exist or not.

DAN: Right. That’s the question. Why value truth more than it is actually conducive to our pleasure and/or flourishing?

BRET: Well, I wouldn’t make that comparison. I don’t think truth is what makes people sad, or happy.

DAN: Why treat it as a good in itself when it might mean rebuking yourself for taking baseball games seriously or being fooled by movies emotionally or by drugs, etc.? The idea is that if you take “Truthfulness” to an extreme it does interfere with other things in life. That’s Nietzsche’s point. There’s a bit of “falsity” in everything. How fanatical must we be in rooting it out?

BRET: I think the missing link is Justice. The emphasis is being put on truth, but truth is only valuable as it pertains to fairness.

DAN: Well we can talk about the justice of pleasures, no?

BRET: I suppose, but I don’t know anything about the justice of pleasure. I know about the pleasure of justice... but not the other way around.

DAN: I mean pleasures should justly track merit and displeasure demerit. If we’re being formal and anal. I do something great and you do something lousy, but you take a drug and we both feel great tonight. How’s that fair?

BRET: Hey, did you see the guy I had to go to in order to get that drug? Serious risk involved.

DAN: (laughs)

BRET: Plus, most drug addicts I have met are shamelessly harmless. They weren’t out robbing people, they just never left their couch.

DAN: Then they’re unjust to themselves! They fail themselves.

BRET: What if them leaving the house had resulted in them hurting people? If you’re a danger to others, then please... sit at home stoned all day long, I beg of you. And maybe the guy who got a promotion and achieved so much isn’t really doing the world any favors.

Suppose he makes boxes, which people need, right? And he increases his profits by convincing people they need another box inside the outer box, doubling his sales. He succeeded, right? Until one day he drives by a landfill and he realizes it’s filled with all his boxes.

And he kills himself.

DAN: I had not considered the possible tragic consequences of what I was saying.

BRET: So few do...

DAN: (laughs) So none of this is to advocate against truthfulness. I only think atheists need to be scrupulous about not letting their truthfulness on this point--one on which the majority are such astonishing self-deceivers--lead them to thinking this makes them by default, generally more virtuous or even generally more honest people.

Things are more complicated than that and the temptation towards self-flattery is great in all of us. And I will say this too and this is an important qualification: often sometimes people want to attack atheists for being too interested in truthfulness in areas that themselves require truthfulness. And that’s unfair. In the public discussion of ideas to attack one side for caring too much about truth is perverse.

BRET: I fear the emphasis on truth and logic in atheism makes atheists more blind than some theists, because at least many theists acknowledge a difference between knowledge and faith. For atheists, they see themselves literally aligned with truth. As if it is a companion who follows them everywhere.

DAN: Yes, at least the religious admit that some of what they say is bullshit. And because they’re comfortable with faith (though they shouldn’t be) some of them are more comfortable with degrees of belief and degrees of uncertainty also in cases where that’s a good thing. It’s not as all or nothing. Fundamentalists on both sides risk being absolutist.

Atheists need to embrace what Nietzsche described as perspectivism, the constant shifting of perspectives for the sake of new truths. One has to not only consider more evidence but consider it with different feelings and from different social and political dispositions.

BRET: Feelings? Atheists don’t have those...

DAN: (laughs) Right, it’s that conception of perfectly detached truthfulness that Nietzsche thinks is self-deluded. Yes, science is about detachment. But most of our thinking does not involve double blind tests or quantitative analysis.

A lot of it--and especially when discussing philosophy and religion and ethics and practical choices--involves emotions and social and political dispositions. And there is no way to think void of emotions and in Nietzsche’s view to successfully do so would actually be to neuter reason. Our emotions make our reasoning about some things potentially more virile, as long as we feel things from multiple perspectives rather than with one prejudicial feeling and learn the most honest ways to rank the importance of what we learn from each feeling perspective we take on.

This perspectivist approach to knowledge is what led to recent shifts in my thinking and blogging. I was writing totally in lion mode at first. Then one day I decided to adopt the perspective of those who talk about “True Religion” about religions they don’t believe in. Like George W. Bush saying there is a “True Islam”. What could that POSSIBLY mean? I got into his possible perspective and feelings and it illuminated a range of truths for me that I couldn’t see when my only way of feeling religion was as an apostate atheist obsessed with the virtue of truth. I convinced myself of some of the merits of moderate religion in a way that its advocates never could for me.

I did that in the midst of writing a blog post that was an open ended exercise in perspective taking.

BRET: I’m not sure I could ever see things from W’s perspective. I don’t think there’s room up his ass for both of our heads.

DAN: (laughs)

BRET: Feelings are sort of an atheist corollary to the devil. The greatest trick your feelings ever pulled was to get you to deny you have them. The atheists who pretend they have no emotions... boy do they get emotional. Usually anger, but also sometimes pride.

DAN: Right, whenever anyone is viscerally committed to denying they do some particular thing, watch out because the dangers of projection and hypocrisy and self-deception go way up.

BRET: So, you’re saying don’t bend over in front of Rick Santorum.

DAN: (laughs)

BRET: What is that about? How did atheists get religious hypocrisy? We supposedly don’t have a book which instills us with views counter to reality...

DAN: Most religions don’t. Part of our problem is we keep saying “religion” as though it means only “Abrahamic monotheism.”

BRET: You don’t think it’s a little hypocritical that Buddhists claim to want to destroy the self, and yet they meditate alone in their own thoughts for hours?

DAN: Never thought of that.

BRET: I criticize all religions, I even got material on Jains. Like, should a Jain even floss? They’re killing millions of bacteria.

DAN: I think the issue is that religion is any interconnected set of ways of believing, valuing, ordering one’s life, ordering communities, developing rituals and celebrations, and forming identities, in which each of these things is mutually determinative of the others. That’s what it is. It’s not any one set of beliefs.

BRET: I was always taught in philosophy that religion is ritual.

DAN: Well you can have ritual without religion but ritual is often a key component in making other things become religious. Ritual helps make the religious link between things you can have apart from religion.

BRET: Well, right, you can have ritual without religoin, but you can’t have religion without ritual. Which is why atheism can’t be a religion. It may have charismatic leaders, it may cut family ties, it may take donations... but that’s a cult, not a religion.

DAN: I don’t think you can boil anything down to one secret ingredient like that.

BRET: I’m sure not.

DAN: Or even say any human community is devoid of rituals. Sure, disconnected atheists with nothing in common and no organized groups would have few if any rituals.

BRET: Of course not, but what makes a ritual religious is the reasoning behind it, not the act of ritual.

DAN: But the more we interconnect with each other and form a shared identity, it naturally starts to happen. Like listening to the way some atheists say “atheism is not a belief, it’s a lack of belief just as bald is not a hair color” it starts to sound like a recitation of a creed. A really ironic recitation of a creed. And it’s not that what they’re saying is false. It comes off sounding like the brain has been stimulated to recite the right response.

BRET: Too true. But they don’t say that because they think it pleases Atheismo, the great and powerful.

DAN: No, but you can argue that neither is that what makes religious people recite their creeds. They recite creeds as affirmations of group membership—to view it from an external, sociological point of view, irrespective of what they consciously are thinking and saying.

BRET: Are creeds even part of religion though? I see politics and religion as being hard to separate, but that might be the line. If you do something to be part of a group, it’s political.

DAN: Sure, the Apostle’s Creed, for example.

BRET: Oh no, I know of creeds. I was raised Catholic for Christ’s sake.

DAN: This is something Eric Steinhart and I have talked a lot about. When we are dealing with our students and talking to them about God and trying to get them to open up the question as simply a philosophical issue and they say, “Well, I believe because I’m a Catholic.” They have not given a reason they’re making an identity statement.

BRET: Sure they did.

DAN: Right.

BRET: Because they popped out of a Catholic vagina. What more could you want?

DAN: But they are not even cognizing seriously that this is a question of truths about the world. Or if they are, what’s driving what they say is identity, not philosophy. So when atheists attack people’s religious ideas, so many people think we’re attacking their identities. Implicitly, that’s what they hear. And in part, we are, and we need to figure out what to do about that.

BRET: Especially when they get specific, like “white Christian males.”

DAN: Because their identities are intertwined with very false ideas and irrationalistic habits of thought. To address this we need to take seriously how religions function on the non-cognitive level. We can’t just say, “Oh it’s a set of propositions. Look, they’re false! Now you can stop being religious. You’re welcome.”

This works only on those capable of thinking like a rationalist or a scientist or a philosopher. The rest look at us like we have three heads and no idea of what religion is. This is not to say that they don’t have beliefs. Especially the Abrahamic faiths have beliefs. And they take them very seriously.

But the key is to understand that they take them religiously seriously and this is a distinct way of thinking things, or a range of distinct ways of thinking things. But where were we? What was the question?

BRET: There was a question?

DAN: Did I answer it?

BRET: Who cares, this sounds good to me.

DAN: Okay. Me too.

BRET: Staying on topic is for suckers.

[Part 3, Part 4]
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