June 1

Fumbling for the Key

Quite a few people in my life have struggled with the simple fact that I am an atheist. For me, it is a simple fact; I do not believe in any gods. But, family members, friends, and online strangers strain at this with varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how much they care about me. Some passively post articles about atheists who found their way to faith. Some argue with me at length, using everything from simple, easily shredded arguments such as the “Look at the Trees” argument to the much more subtle “From whence cometh self awareness.”

Each of these are attempts to find the key that unlocks the door to my spirituality, as if I will suddenly snap bolt upright and raise a finger to the sky and proclaim, “Oh, yes, now I get it! I believe in God now!”

For a long time, I did precisely the same thing with atheism, hoping that I could come up with the exact right thing or sequence of things to get those I cared about to shed their religious beliefs. However, the only “Ah-ha!” moment that arrived was my own.

It took nearly three decades for me to arrive at atheism after concerted study of religion, studying the Bible. the Qur’an, and a slew of other religious texts. I spent time as a pagan priest. It was not an easy journey.

What it took me a while to realize is it never is easy. No one reaches their equilibrium point quickly, or easily, or by stepping through a single door. There is no single key to unlock, no single barrier to get past. The friend that asked me the question that brought me to atheism didn’t bring me from hard core belief to absolute non-belief. I was nearly there already, a deist seriously examining all my beliefs. I am never going to come up with a single phrase that will convince my religious father to become an atheist any more than he will come up with a phrase that will convince me to become a Christian again.

All I can say is that one of the primary reasons that I am an atheist is that it is important to me that I believe as many true things as possible. If something is an unknown, I don’t want to believe in it until it is known to be true. No religion fits that description.

December 3

A formal critique of “God exists scintifically. How???”

First off, I will not be attacking grammar or spelling. I believe this person to be a non-native English writer, so I congratulate him on attempting a difficult subject in a language that is not his native tongue.

We will be examining the arguments alone.

First, the pertinent links:

Main argument: http://g-e-s-how.blogspot.com/

Secondary definition of God: http://g-e-s-how.blogspot.com/p/defining-god.html

Summary of claim:

Claimant asserts that God must exist based on the following argument:

To prove whether god exists or not, mankind must have total knowledge of all of reality.

However, the universe is expanding. Therefore, that which can be known is constantly expanding, and we can never know everything. We can never conclusively prove that god does not exist.

Probability that a god does not exist is therefore finite knowledge / infinite possible knowledge and therefore 0.

God is now defined as equal to the unknown knowledge, so this god is also constantly expanding and is therefore infinite.

Claimant asserts this means that the probability that a god exists is therefore infinite knowledge / infinite possible knowledge and therefore 1.

I’m sure some of my readers have spotted some errors. Let’s see if I catch them all.

  1. Unsupported claim: Mankind must have total knowledge of all of reality in order to prove or disprove god’s existence.
    I’ve seen this one asserted by some religious people from time to time, although most limit it to God’s nonexistence. As an agnostic atheist, I find absolute proof of his nonexistence irrelevant. However, depending on the definition of specific gods, they can be ruled out, one by one, due to their impossibility or their internal inconsistency.
  2. Definition of god is irrelevant to the logic of the claim (Not to mention in contradiction to the other definition, but that comes later). I know the claimant would disagree, but the definition given of this god presumes it’s existence. It is a begging the question logical fallacy. Basically, it is stating “I define God as being X, and X exists, therefore atheists cannot disprove God.” Yes, this claimant is saying we would have to examine all of reality to make sure it isn’t really God, but in doing so he is shifting the burden of proof and lodging an argument from ignorance.
  3. The claimant’s understanding of the nature of infinity is rudimentary at best. He goes on to talk about things such as “2*Infinity”. Infinity is not just a variable. One cannot add, multiply, or divide infinities unless one is dealing with hyperreal fields and nonstandard analysis, well beyond the simple arithmetic this claimant is using.

    (EDIT: Another poster pointed out that using infinities in arithmetic gives undefined results, so his math is literally meaningless. Thanks atheist religionfree!)

  4. Probability is the study of the likelihood of events. These likelihoods are given numbers from 0 to 1. there are a variety of ways to calculate and manipulate the numbers to find out, for example, to probability of flipping a standard coin and getting heads ten times in a row (1 in 1024, or a probability of 0.0009765625). To break down his math, however, he is not dealing with numbers in the same field. In fact, he is not dealing with numbers at all. Finite is not a number, nor is infinite. You can’t divide one by the other, especially not to get a probability. Not mathematically, anyway.
  5. Finally, even if his math was correct, what he is proving is not the existence of god, but our ability to prove or disprove it. Because the base is our knowledge versus all knowledge, the existence or nonexistence of god never actually is in question.

Definition of God

After discussing this with the claimant on Twitter, he said that the definition of God for this claim was

And in this case God existence will be equal To the unknown Knowledge.

which is interesting, as he also has a page defining what God is. (Yes, I know he has a screen cap from Avatar and the logo from Game of Thrones. He’s trying to illustrate his point)

His definitions are rudimentary again. He compares people to computer avatars. (Avatar, get it?) However, there are a few problems with this analogy.

First, God allegedly made the entire universe and is omnipotent/omniscient/etc. In other words, he should be capable of creating humans that could understand him (Just as I could program an avatar that could understand what a computer is, and a programmer, and that they are inside a simulation. Or appear to. Where is the line, anyway?) And this is the sticking point; most theists claim humans cannot understand God, then go on to explain God. If we can’t understand God, how do they?

Divine will/gift? Then how do they hope to convince the rest of us that do not have such a wonderful gift of understanding?

His second definition is that God must have obviously created all creatures and living things. Not sure why this is a “must”. Oops, he cautions that it can’t be understood, just have to accept it as truth (This is called dogma. It is not a good thing). But, wait, it can be tested scientifically! This author seems to be a bit confused. He says we have to wait until the end of the article.

Third definition is that God must be alive, because, to sum up, life comes only from life.

Third definition (again) is that God must be a conscious mind. Because whomever created a human mind must be a greater mind.

Unfortunately, the author never gets back to the scientific test to show God created all creatures. I suppose he is not finished with the article yet.

September 8

When Atheists Become Disenchanted with the Atheist Community

I’ve been an atheist for about five or six year now; at least, identifying as an atheist. I could make the argument that it has been nearly thirty years, but let’s go from the point at which I said, “I am an atheist.”

In that time, I spent much of it running a religious debate group on Facebook. It’s gone now, taken down by Muslim activists (A story for another day), but one thing I tried very hard to maintain was fairness for all, regardless of their position. I found this was a very hard thing to do. It was not just from the theists who refused to abide by the rules; there were some atheists that couldn’t play fair, either.

Which brings me to my point. I have found that there is a range of atheists, from the comfortable, “live and let live” non-believer to the rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-theist. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more cohesion in the atheist community than what I found. I suppose it was my own foolish hope, thinking that a group thinly tied together by a single attribute would somehow be more homogeneous than other groups I had been in. What I did find, though, was interesting.

Many atheists who were theists keep the same emotional level that they had as theists. Rabid fundamentalist theists become rabid anti-theists, comfortably introspective theists become comfortably introspective atheists. Some very few go through an evolution, especially if, as theists, they were not a single type of theists. Pagans who become atheists seem to be the most even keeled, perhaps because they have already worked through their anger at major religions when they were pagans.

But, like the theist community, and most communities, it is the loudest, most aggressive atheists who end up being up in front, and being the most noticed. There are a few exceptions, like the ACA which runs The Atheist Experience, but people like Richard Dawkins end up being the face of atheism to people who don’t know much about the community.

And therein lies the rub. I don’t particularly care for Mr. Dawkins. He’s a great scientist, but he tends to shoot his mouth off without much care as to the consequences of what he is saying. Like many atheists, he doesn’t see atheism as anything more than an attribute, even though theists see it as a movement, a menace, a cohesive whole. And that means that what he says tends to reflect onto atheists. When he goes off on a sexist rant, it looks bad when I am trying to have a conversation with a fundamentalist woman. Never mind that her religion is ten times worse towards women; she’s learned to deal with that. I’m the bad guy because Dawkins said something bad. I’m not saying Dawkins and others should not speak out, it is just that moderate atheists need to speak out, too. And we need to bridge gaps, even with theists.

Many atheists see all religion as being bad. However, there are many religions which do not have all of the horrible baggage dragging along behind. Take, for example, earth based religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and the like. For the most part, relatively innocuous, and rarely evangelical, yet some atheists attack them just the same.

I say that it is time for moderate atheists like myself to reach out to moderate religions and form friendships, alliances, and bonds. I think that we will be able to temper each other, and both end up better in the long run. We must do so without derision, and without fear or anger. If we don’t I fear that the atheist community will become merely reactionary and extremist.

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August 6

Romancing Israel

Nearly twenty years ago, I met a man who became my best friend. An apatheist, late atheist, he was bright, talented, although a bit unfocused, he helped me get through a significant and horrible series of events in my life that changed me forever.

After I returned to the Midwest from the west coast, he was able to track me down and we continued our friendship. We did business together, as we were both in software development.

My friend was of Jewish descent. When his son was born, I helped him get together a minion for the son’s bris. He wasn’t religious, but it was important to him culturally.

I frankly thought we would be close friends for the rest of our lives. During the wild days after my divorce, several things happened that began to drive a wedge between us.

I am filling you in with the back story because I need to give you some perspective on what just happened.

After years bemoaning the nuttiness of his father, a far right wing rabbi, my friend suddenly shifted. He started defending Israel to the point of, well, saying some bizarre things. His political bent shifted radically right, and he started blaming liberals for hate crimes against Jews. I have my theories as to why, but this is not really about him. This is about some of the underlying misconceptions he has come under the influence of, and I think it’s time to let the air out of the Conservative love fest that is built on some very dangerous lies. Continue reading

August 6

Aggressive Atheism

Over time, I have been accused of being an aggressive atheist.

Oh, the terminology has changed. I’ve been called an asshole. I’ve been told I am “proselytizing”. I’ve been told that I am too open and vocal about my atheism, even once by another atheist (or so they claimed at the time).

“Oh,” you are thinking, “You must be one of those anti-theists. You hate religion and the religious.”

Nope. I don’t hate anyone, and find religion to be, at best, annoying, and, at worst, an excuse for people to treat each other badly. Why, then, am I labeled like that?

Because I speak truth to believers. I point out the flaws in their belief, in their logic, and I ask questions that challenge their worldview. Let me give you an example.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a meme of a “white Jesus” with the question, “Is there room for me on your wall?”

If I had been an anti-theist, my response would have been something along the lines of, “Sure, let me go get some nails.” or “Fuck no! He isn’t real!”

Anti-theism is not about speaking truth. It is about reacting negatively to religion. It can be dogmatic (All religion is wrong and evil!). It is usually very aggressive

What I did was ask why I would want a portrait of Cesare Borgia on my wall. For those of you who don’t know, the images of Jesus used in mainstream Christianity are of Cesare Borgia, a disgusting man from the 15th century who was given a PR makeover by his father. He had a variety of images created with Cesare as Jesus Christ. The campaign was super effective, and very, very few people today know that White Jesus is not Jesus at all, but Borgia.

By the end of it, I was threatened with violence, told by one person they had no idea what I believed (and then went on to tell me what I believed. Or, more accurately, what they thought I believed), told my parents had failed somewhere with me, and then blocked by someone who has known me since I was about eight years old.

Did I throw any insults? Not one.

Did I call people stupid? Nope.

I didn’t even really challenge their faith. But, I made them question it themselves, and that horrifies people. So, while it is acceptable for some Christians to say that other people deserve to be tortured for eternity, inciting thought and critical thinking is a crime worthy of banishment.

CHRISTAIN WARRIOR 1
At least I’m not one of these guys.

Why don’t I insult believers? For the same reason I don’t blame women for being raped, or the elderly for getting ripped off. Religion is a scam, and blaming those that have been scammed does nothing positive. The best thing for me to do is plant the seeds of doubt. In those that have a mind open enough to it, maybe they will realize the scam and get free. Forcing them with insults is not my style.

So, call me an aggressive atheist for challenging worldviews. It could be worse…

 

 

Category: Atheism | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 6

In the Wrong Gear

Setting aside theological concerns for the moment, this is a real and serious concern with the majority religion of the planet, namely, Christianity.

Whether it is a marketing issue, a difficulty in distribution, apathy, a dogma problem, or a little of all of these, some of Christianities core competencies are failing. Where there was once an organization that publicly helped those in need there now exists an organization that is more generally devoted to telling people how they are doing it wrong, trying to regain control, and support those that push hateful agendas.

22109_686827548105850_3688404719116650903_nTake, for example, the recent RFRA law in Indiana. Set the law aside for a moment and examine the immediate result of the law, the case of one Memories Pizza. The Blaze, a conservative website run by Glenn Beck, set up a Gofundme campaign for the restaurant, who had publicly stated they would not cater any gay weddings, then closed their doors under the social media backlash. In two days, they received nearly a million dollars of funding. Meanwhile, dozens of other campaigns for people, families, and businesses with legitimate needs went unfunded or underfunded. People in need. Families in pain. Instead, money went to support a pizza restaurant standing up for exclusion, because of their myopic view of the Bible.

Here’s some facts. Jesus never said anything directly against homosexuality. Some people stretch some of his words to cover it. Paul used coined terms that may or may not have had something to do with homosexuality, but were more likely dealing with temple prostitution. The Old Testament talks about it, about the same time it talks about pork, shellfish, and mixed fabrics being just as bad.

What did Jesus say? He said not to judge. He said not to lay heavy burdens on others (Matthew 23:4). He said not to lock others out of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13). He said not to preach hateful attitudes (Matthew 23:15). He said some people are born different (Matthew 19:12). He said he loves weddings (Matthew 22:1-14).

Finally, I’m going to quote another website:

There is a detailed description of this interpretation here. The first time I read this interpretation of Luke 17:34-35, I thought reading gay and lesbian sex into it was pretty wacky: “In that night, two men will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding; one will be taken and one will be left.” But now I find it impossible to read the passage without seeing the possibility that Jesus is saying homosexuality is irrelevant to salvation. The fact that the passage begins with a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah may reinforce this reading—if Genesis 19 is really about homosexuality.

This interpretation does interesting things to our arguments about the Bible and LGBTQ issues. In our modern debate, anti-gay Christians claim that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality. The counter-argument is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is really about xenophobia and violence toward strangers. The inhabitants of the towns threaten visitors with rape. So, the counter-argument goes, this is a story about violence and exploitation, not a story about consensual sex between people of the same gender.

But because Luke’s apocalypse references Sodom and Gomorrah and two men in one bed, then I think it’s reasonable to claim that if one is about homosexuality, then so is the other—and if one isn’t then neither is the other.

The other common New Testament debate is about what Paul meant by the word “arsenokoites” from 1 Corinthians, 6:9. It’s often translated as “male prostitutes” or “homosexuals” or even “Sodomites,” but it is really a compound Greek word formed by the word “man” and “bed.” Anti-gay Christians claim that the word is clearly Paul’s reference to homosexuality. The counter argument is that it could be about any kind of sexual abuse or exploitation. The anti-gay response is that no, really, man-bedders has got to be a reference to the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22, “lying with a man.”

But Luke’s gay apocalypse also turns this argument on its head. If “man-bedders” is “clearly” Paul’s reference to homosexuality, then Jesus’ similar language about two men in a bed must also be about homosexuality. This is one of those interpretive situations where you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either Paul isn’t talking about gay sex and Jesus isn’t either, or they both are. Either the story of Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t about gay sex, and Luke’s gay apocalypse isn’t either, or they both are. Either way, Jesus trumps both Genesis and Paul.

So, what happened?

Nothing happened. Christianity, like most religions, has been used to control others for thousands of years. It is the the positive fringe that look for the good in the religion and try to do good. Even some people whom the world considers to be positive forces are actually negative; Mother Teresa believed that suffering was good for people, so let people suffer when the suffering could have been alleviated.

If Jesus did exist, many of his teachings were very different, and there are Christians today that follow those teachings. Presbyterians, for example, seem to be a bit more aware of the times than most. Even so, I think that the Jesus of the Bible had a lot more in common with the hippies of the 1960s than with the bulk of Christians today.

April 3

How to Save the World, part I

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the thing.

We all live on this planet. All of us. Hindus. Muslims. Christians. Black People. White People. Asians. Nerds. Jocks. Tall people. Short. Americans. North Koreans. Iraqis. All the humans.

We share the planet with millions of species of animals, plants, single cell organisms, some interesting things between.

Setting aside the natural world for now, we have a big problem. It’s a problem with our base nature as humans. We hate being wrong. Which means we love being right. Enough that we fight, sometimes to the death, to be right.

The worst fights are the ones over religion. The big problem with that is that there is no way to really know who is right objectively. Not a problem for the average believer, but it does cause a lot of division. enmity, and warfare between different groups.

Except one.

There is one group that does not fight about whose holy book is correct. One that does not bicker over translation or meaning, over interpretation or theology. Unfortunately, this group is distrusted by the largest groups of theists. That’s right, it’s the atheists.

No dogma, no leaders or text that must be followed without question.

So, what does this mean?

Every major religion promises that, at some point, it can bring about peace. Whether it is personal peace or world peace… the problem is that, with rare exceptions, none have delivered this peace. The funny thing is that I think that the only viewpoint that could actually do it is the only one that does not promise it. But, not as it is right now.

Atheism suffers from the same problem as all the others: the overwhelming desire to be right. This leads to a lot of office chair atheist warriors flooding online communities, itching for a fight. I myself have been embroiled in these fights, to my shame. I wrote a three part series on how to disengage from them (here, here, and here) but even I have a hard time resisting it.

In order for atheism to save us from the ten thousand plus years of religious warfare, we, as atheists, are going to have to rise above the petty squabbles and strive to be better at being mature about it. Stand up for the rights of all, even the religious, even when we disagree with the message.

“But, why? Their beliefs are silly!” I hear you say indignantly.

So what? Actions are what is important. Beliefs are less so. As long as they do not force others to do things, what does it matter? Do you mind what pagans do out in the forest if they aren’t hurting anyone?

Learn to live and let live. It’s what we want them to do, and we need to lead by example.

March 27

RFRA vs. RFRA

Why the Indiana RFRA is not the same as the Federal RFRA

State of Distress
State of Distress. Source: Original Work

PLEASE NOTE: A much more in depth and educated analysis can be found here. Mine is cursory and from a layman’s perspective.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hullabaloo in Indiana and nationwide about the passing into law of SB101, Indiana’s version of the RFRA, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Governor Mike Pence’s defense of the bill and now law is that it is not different than the now twenty year old federal law of the same name, passed nearly unanimously and signed by then president Bill Clinton. The problem is, that is not true. Although similar on the surface, there are some important differences. Differences that I think that a lot of people in the media are not really explaining, and I hope to do so here. I myself was guilty of hopping on the bandwagon of criticism of the bill without understanding why I was doing so, and, because of that, I nearly stopped when I considered what Governor Pence was offering as defense. However, I have a feeling he was not expecting people to actually do the research he was encouraging, or they would realize what was really going on.

So, we will discuss some of the larger points, then get into the finer points after the jump.

The Federal RFRA was designed, primarily, to help Native American tribes who had come under legal attack from the federal government in projects that were threatening sacred land, as well as protecting the use of peyote in Native American religious ritual. Although it was not specifically written for Native Americans, that was the original driving factor.

Originally, it applied to the federal as well as state government, although that changed when it was ruled that it was not constitutional to cover state law in such a way, which led to the increase in states passing their own versions of the law.

Continue reading

March 23

Passive Censorship, Religion, and Facebook

Dislike
Not everyone you meet online is going to like what you have to say.

Recently, I was the target of what I call passive censorship on Facebook. I belonged to an MS support group. Although the rules specifically state no posts about religion, there were allowances for prayer requests, and several posts a day talking about God. However, anyone talking about atheism was warned, their posts deleted, and if they did not take the hint that secularism was not allowed, like me, they would be banned, even if they followed the other rules. One admin claimed the group owner was an atheist, although nothing was heard from them about the whole thing. So, what the heck is going on here? The same kind of thing that happens in a lot of groups, and many people accuse Facebook of doing; passive censorship.

For more than five years, I was an admin on a very successful debate group on Facebook. It was eventually destroyed when a Muslim posted an image of someone being beheaded that was not caught by the admins and he later reported it for graphic violence. That was more active censorship; he very clearly intended to censor our speech. Passive censorship is more subtle, to the point where the person censoring may not even notice it themselves. It usually takes the form of rule manipulation to try and silence speech that is disagreeable. In some cases, this can be admirable; a few years ago, a group of pastors here in Indianapolis limited a Klu Klux Klan rally to the statehouse by registering events at all of the other public spaces in the downtown area. There have been cases where people have blocked access to the WBC without breaking the law. In a way, these are, in themselves, acts of free speech and defiance. The difference is that they do not prevent the speech of another; they are not full censorship. They do not eliminate the speech, only limit its scope.

Additionally, they do not show preferential treatment to one group over another. Granted, if I were to go into a Presbyterian church service on a Sunday morning and proclaim Allah as God, I would be met with, at least, a rightful request to leave. I would be on private property. directly violating rules and upsetting the reason people are there. However, if there was to be a computer trade show, and only Christians were invited, that would be passive censorship.

People have accused Facebook of doing this kind of thing, usually for political purposes. Recently, there was a case of a twelve year old whose account was removed. Allegedly, it was because of a post critical of Obama, but anyone who has read the Facebook TOS knows that the cutoff age is 13.

The thing is that passive censorship requires vague rules to begin with. Without vagaries, there can be no errors of interpretation, and no “benefits of the doubt”. That’s why legal contracts are so specific, long, and carefully worded. Such as a Terms of Service contract.

So, in the case of the MS group that bounced me out, well, so be it. You’ve proven to me that your adherence to your religion is more important than your compassion for your fellow man… which is, ironically, what your religion is supposed to be about.

March 22

Fighting MS without God

Orange Swirl
Orange Swirl. Source: Morguefile

One thing that has cropped up during my search for a wider realm of support during my battle with MS is the number of people who turn to religion as a support structure to help them through their own personal battles. While I have no problem with whatever one needs to help them through fighting a chronic disease like MS. A problem arises when there is an expectation that everyone else has to offer up support only in that way, and no other.

My treatment by others set aside as a needless digression, how do I fight a disease so far outside of my control when I have no belief in the supernatural?

I look to those things in my life worth living for, worth fighting the MonSter for. My wife and children are at the top of the list, with my parents and friends close behind. All very real, all very here. I place myself third, along with my writing and programming goals. These are enough to keep me breathing, keep me fighting, keep me pushing myself to my feet when I am on the floor and struggling, keep me taking my meds and doing my injections.

My pain may be great, but it is just pain. My tired and sore muscles are still mine, even if they don’t listen well.

I don’t need to look up to the sky for inspiration. I don’t need a god to take my burden; I can carry it with the help from those I love. I don’t need hollow platitudes or the empty promises of prayer to get me through the day.

Do not pity me for making it through without relying on a god. Realize I am making it through, and wonder how a simple human could do something like that.