jump to navigation

World Religion Tree September 7, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

So, this is pretty awesome.  I have spent many years reading about the history of religion, and i think that the subject is very interesting.  I could have spent all of those years doing nothing except reading about religion, and still only scratched the surface of this:

tree

Just a segment of the awesome.

 

 

That’s just a snapshot.  To see the whole thing (and to zoom in and scroll around), click here or the image itself.  The complex history and sheer number of religious traditions is astonishing to see displayed this way.  I could get lost in this image for hours.

Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the fact that we can categorize religious traditions into a tree says something about the nature of religion, and of human culture in general.  Human culture, including religion, does not come out of a vacuum.  Religion is not revelations from up high, it is natural, organic, and growths from us.

In one sense, religions are beautiful in that they represent not only what is amazing and sublime, but also what is terrifying and dangerous, about our ability to create and to interpret the world.  They are windows into our “souls;” glimpses of what we could be–both good and bad.  They are dreams and nightmares all at once, prying under our mundane lives into the engines of possibility.

And yet, for all that is good in them, there are paths which can clean up the mess and the grime attached to these fantastic reveries.  There is a way to drain out the dirty water of fantasy and to know what is real, and as we advance in our understanding we learn more and more about how to do this.  The growth of this religion tree will not cease, but it may be pruned by this method.  There will always be branches of this religious tree, I’m willing to wager, but the branches which survive will have to contest with another tree.

Science, empiricism, and skepticism generally owe much of its existence to the  intellectual traditions of this religion tree, but it is a different type of organism.  Entangled, all too often, with this massive faith tree, skepticism takes root in a part of us which seeks to avoid the siren songs of Nietzsche’s old metaphysical bird catchers.  That ground is fertile, but for many it is foreign soil.  I hope that changes, because our culture needs better soil, if we are too grow, thrive, and survive.

So, once again I get to quote my favorite passage from Nietzsche, referred to above, because I think it encapsulates my values better than just about any collection of words I’ve yet seen:

To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task

An open letter to a Christian trope July 16, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

More specifically, this is an open letter to one Christian blogger who apparently ‘liked’ my post from earlier today and who wrote an open letter to doubters of god.  The letter I sent to him just a few minutes ago is quoted below.

[edited to fix formatting issues]

—–

So, through and email notification, I was informed that you liked a post of mine from today.  The notification linked me to this post of yours:

http://tworiversblog.com/2013/06/14/an-open-letter-to-those-who-doubt-or-deny-god/

As well as a couple others.  But I have only looked at this one, since it is, at least I think it’s intended to be, directed towards me (in part).
The reason I am writing to you is that you are making a common, but annoying, error here in your classification.  In order to try and educate you, I want to give you a brief run-down of who I am and what I (dis)believe.

Philosophically, I am a skeptic first.  Not in the tradition of radical skepticism from the ancient Greeks (although I appreciate that as well, to some degree) but as in the Skeptic movement, which is related (though there are tensions) to the atheist community.  Skepticism, in this sense, is the position whereby one accepts a proposition as true iff sufficient empirical and logical evidence has been demonstrated which supports said proposition.  In the case of theism a skeptic, if they are applying their skepticism, will hear the claim “god exists” and will ask for evidence, then iff evidence is presented (which should not be logically fallacious, is at least somewhat empirically demonstrated, and repeatable) then the skeptic can rationally accept the claim.  They should keep themselves open to new evidence always.

You don’t want to argue, so my point in the following is not to refute theism, per se, but rather to clearly explain my position.  I see no valid evidence for the existence of any gods. especially the ‘omnimax’ variety which tends to come from the Abrahamic religions.  I see YHWH/ALLAH/Jesus as a non-demonstrated proposed being, and I also see no evidence for any “philosophers’ god” or even a deism.  After many years of reading theology, religious apologetics, and criticisms of religion, I have concluded that no evidence for any gods exist.  If there are any gods, then I want to know.  So either none of the gods want me to know about them, the gods do not care, or there are no gods.  And if gods exist that don’t care whether I believe in them, then so what?
I am an agnostic-atheist.  That is, while I cannot, logically, disprove the general concept of god (specific gods which are logically impossible can be disproved, but not all gods are clearly defined enough for this), I lack belief because there is insufficient evidence.

In your post, you respond to agnostics and “militant atheists,” leaving out non-militant atheists.  In fact, I will point out that despite having been part of the atheist community for more than a decade, I have never met a militant atheist.  I’ve met some angry ones, and often their anger is justified (not always), but never a militant one.  In what way are atheists militant? Have we taken up arms? Have we been violent towards the religious (as a group; individual examples are anecdotal and do not address atheism per se.  Also, Hitler was a Catholic and Stalin/Mao/etc killed in the name of an absolutist political regimes, not atheism.  What person or group has done anything militant in the name of atheism?)?

I do not wish to eradicate religion.  I find that to be a fruitless goal.  My concern is with faith.  I see faith as a fundamental problem for human psychology, groups, and ultimately the progress towards greater understanding of the universe.  I’m using faith as it is defined in Hebrews, where it is belief in things not seen.  In other words, belief in things despite the lack of evidence.  This is a dangerous phenomenon.  Would you apply that methodology in any other aspect of your life besides religion or spiritual pursuits? Isn’t it fascinating that the more we understand the universe, the further away god is pushed into that gap of what we don’t know?  Compare the concept of god as it was understood hundreds, even thousands of years ago, and how modern theologians talk about god (the “ground of being” and such).  The more we can explain, the more vague and abstract gods become.

I find that fascinating–and telling!

But I don’t hate religion and want it gone merely because it does bad things. While I am very bothered by the many atrocities that people have committed in history, often in the name of some religion, god, or other type of doctrine, my larger concern is with the lack of critical thinking, skepticism, and willingness to transcend oneself towards a greater potential for humanity.  Skepticism, science, philosophy, and even humanism are what is needed, not superstition.
Your post does not seem to carry sufficient understanding of what an atheist is, what many of our goals are, and even what “militant” means.  So while I am not seeking to eradicate religion (I’d prefer people organically outgrew it, which I doubt will happen anytime soon), I am trying to eradicate poor comprehension of atheist arguments and tropes which perpetuate the othering of our community.  I have seen posts like this many times from Christian bloggers.  In fact, I looked at the date it was posted to make sure I had not read this post previously, since it was so predictable and trope-laden.

I suggest reading an atheist blog or two regularly.  Perhaps read a book by a former-Christian atheist, who can communicate that issue much better than I can.  I can refer you to some if you are interested, since there are many.  In fact, this one, by my friend Jerry DeWitt, was recently published and looks excellent (I have not read it yet).
But in general, keep up the conversation, so the next time you write a letter to agnostics and atheists, you at least have a better grasp of the relevant issues.  I wish you the best.

In reason,

Shaun

Born atheist into a crazy world July 16, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

Every once in a while it strikes me that people really believe this god shit.  I mean the simple fact that theism exists and that people are actually religious never really escapes me, but occasionally I’m reminded that some people actually have to deal with the fact that they used to really believe it, and that they have friends, family, etc who really do, and that is a thing for them.  They think about the concept of identity after that change, how they have a feeling of either being split or otherwise unclear concerning their past self and the self they are trying to reconstruct.  They have to re-build their worldview in the context of a mind trained in crazy thinking.  I cannot fully sympathize, although I try to empathize.

I never believed in a god.  I played with the idea of a “philosopher’s god” for a while, but ultimately found it no more than mental masturbation.  People taking religion seriously, especially conservative Christians, was something I discovered towards my adulthood.  It was not something I grew out of, it was something I found after most of my cognitive development was done, and so it became a strange curiosity for me.  So I spent time around religious groups in college, talking and trying to understand.  What I saw was that it was hurting people.  They didn’t know it was hurting them, but I did.  So I grew to despise it.

As I learned more, I also learned about the history of such ideas, and the philosophical reasons why they were bankrupted–not only in terms of truth, but in terms of morality!  I know, some theists out there just read that and scoffed.  What could an atheist know about morality, right?  Well, frankly I believe that not only does religion not hold the title on morality, in many cases it actually fails at it spectacularly.  I’m not going to address that issue right now, because that’s too much content for what I want to keep a short post.

The point is that religion, theism, and especially conservative theologies which seek to rationalize atavistic emotions which hold us back from progressing, learning, and exploring human potential are things which  I sometimes forget are real.  Or, at least, I am incapable of fully accepting them as real, because they are so absurd.  Sometimes, it seems as if they are part of some intricate fantasy or sci-fi plot, part of a narrative which is not real, but only pretend.  But when I see recent legislative actions based upon these fantasies, read stories of how real people are actually hurt all over the world based on them, and watch as people close to me struggle with family, friends, and their own self over these narratives, it comes home for me.  And then I get annoyed, frustrated, and angry with our culture.

Our species would be better without faith, unjustified metaphysical doctrines, and the unconscious bowing to fear.  We would be better without Christianity (even the liberal types), Islam (oh, if only there were more liberal types), etc.  The ideas that most people hold, about religion, sex, relationships, politics, etc are, frankly, largely crazy.   And while I had to climb out of some of that mire, religion was not really one of the issues for me.  What little “indoctrination” I went through, at a Quaker school, was minimally harmful and I never really believed it anyway.  This world of religion is often an alien one to me.

I’ve always been an atheist, probably always will be, and I will continue to criticize the values of this culture because this culture, in many ways, is fundamentally broken.  We have a legal and political structure which has the potential to be a place for real human growth, and while much of our culture is squandering that right now there is room for improvement.  As a cynic, I don’t think we are getting there soon; too many really stupid people with poor fundamental values about truth and personal challenge.  But we have an opportunity within the rights we have been granted (they are not, in fact inalienable) by ourselves (some illusions are useful, I suppose) to push forward and make ourselves–and our culture–superior.

Conservatism will not help.  Theism will not help.

Skepticism fed by a desire to transcend oneself and grow will help.  Science will help.  Sound sex education will help.  Honesty, to ourselves and those around us, will help.

What else will help?

Ramadan at work July 15, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Islam2So, I work for Muslims.

Some people I know would wonder how I could do so (especially since I wrote this), if they were all Islamophobic and such, but it does not bother me.  I really don’t mind working for this Muslim family any more than working for Christians, Jews, or Hindus would bother me.  They are just people, who are from Syria, and who practice Islam.  From my perspective, it’s not much different than working for people, from Italy, who practice Christianity.  They are both silly religions with checkered pasts.

In the several months I have worked there, only once or twice has the issue of religion come up, and never in a proselytizing way.  They are fairly non-political (they have not expressed any strong opinions about what is going on in Syria right now, except to say that America should not be involved, and rarely talk about it at all as far as I know), they seem to support the concept of the separation of religion and government (their comments about groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood seems to indicate that religion should be separate from political and business decisions), and their two sons seem just as American-acculturated as any kids in the neighborhood.  They are not unlike most America citizens; they came here, love it here, and they have a cultural background they brought with them.  It just happens that theirs is a minority culture and religious perspective in America.

Hell, so is mine.

They are relatively observant Muslims.  They pray at least a couple time a day, that I see, in the back office (Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day, according to one of the five pillars of Islam).  They can be heard singing Arabic songs when in a good mood, they sometimes sit and read from the Koran when business is slower, and, well, recently it has become more obvious.

Ramadan feast

Ramadan feast

You see, recently Ramadan started and this has given me a peek into the reality that there is some cultural distance between us which was not as obvious before, but that distance has given me some perspective.  Watching them get more irritable as the day goes on (due to being hungry, thirsty, etc as they fast during daylight hours, which is longer during the summer) and watching the ritual of the sundown feast shows me, up close, how much these people are like everyone else I know from my mostly Christian family background.  Because while there is distance, culturally, between us, this distance is no so far as to make them alien.  In fact, they are so much like the Catholics on my father’s side of my family (many of whom dislike Islam greatly, for political reasons) in that the way they approach ritual and holy times is automatic and interwoven into their routine.

Have you even talked to a (moderately) practicing Catholic about why they do their daily or periodic rituals? Most of the Catholics I know don’t believe all the doctrines.  Hell, they likely don’t even know what most of the doctrine is, as I have had to explain concepts such as the Nicene Creed and other concepts to them, especially in historical context.  Ask a Catholic about the Council of Nicaea some time, and observe the blank stare you will probably get in return.  But when it comes to ritual, they’ve got it down.  There is a sort of sacred time and space and a set of behavior which provides order, meaning, and ‘right’ feelings at certain times.  When there is a baby, there is a baptism.  When they enter a church, they become serious and reverent where before they seem to not care about such reverence.  There is a seeming difference between everyday life and Catholic life, as observed from the outside.

What I have been observing recently is much the same at work.  Ramadan seems to be a sacred time, perhaps somewhat like how Lent is for Catholics, and it seemingly pulls them into a different space of awareness, because they have to fast during daylight which is a constant reminder.  I have not asked them much about it, mostly because they have been a little irritable (being hungry and all) but I suspect that following Ramadan for them is as natural as celebrating Christmas, baptizing one’s child, etc is for Christians.  I suspect that they don’t really think about why they do it, just like many Christians.  It’s just what you do, if you’re  Muslim.

There are other employees there who are Muslims as well.  When sundown comes, they eat with the family for the evening meal.  I have not been invited to join them.  Granted, I am not really hungry because I ate already, not being a practicing Muslim and all,  but I find it interesting that it does not even seem relevant to them.  They don’t even seem aware that this is happening.  As one of the few non-Muslims who works there, I am different.  I am an outsider.  I am kafir.  I don’t feel ostracized or discriminated against (that is, I don’t really care) but it highlights the role of cultural tradition and ritual to simultaneously pull together the in-group and to otherize the out-group.

Religion is not all bad.  However, one of its strengths, creating cultural bonds, has a complimentary function of clarifying cultural lines of division.  Religion fosters tribalism.  Thus, it’s only a strength to bring communities together for those in the community.

This is generally true, for all sorts of cultural traditions, rituals, or ideas.  Monogamy creates bonds within a coupling that others cannot be a part of, by definition.  There are levels of intimacy in all relationships, even in polyamory, which divide those inside and those outside the tribe, family, etc.  Pride of one’s national heritage, as in “I’m proud to be an American” serve the same function.  They pull together a group, but alienates at the same time.

Kirk: “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s Human.” Spock: “I find that remark… insulting.”

Kirk: “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s Human.”
Spock: “I find that remark… insulting.”

It’s quite unavoidable.  You can try to universalize the message, but this is only a temporary fix.  Define the in-group as humanity and if/when we make contact with alien sentient life, the other is them (I’ve been watching Babylon 5 again…).  It’s a tough knot to untie, and I am not sure there is a solution.  Because having groups of people who vary in importance to us, hierarchical or not, is a logistical and practical solution to only having so much time and energy to spend.  It’s nice to have people close to you, intimate with you, and who you can call family.  But the other side of this is the necessary alienation of others, especially those with whom we share few values.  Liberals, conservative; Democrats, Republicans; Capitalists, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, etc.  There are people who are, in some way, ‘other’ to you.  Religion, tradition, ritual, and nationalism all use this aspect of human behavior to its simultaneous advantage and disadvantage.

And yes, it will be an improvement if and when humanity outgrows religion, nationalism, etc.  But I doubt that will solve the fundamental problem.  Personally, I’m not sure there is a solution.  I’m not writing this to say we should try to give up the concept of culture, and to transcend culture, because that would just create a new culture.  I’m writing this because we should all be aware of this phenomenon.  And those others who will not understand it are just stupid and evil, or something.  But we, the enlightened, will understand it.  Or something.

As for my employers and this Ramadan thing, I will say that the evening feast usually looks quite delicious.  Perhaps they are trying to convert me with the promise of delicious food.  It’s not working, alas.  Well, if the promise of 72 virgins (or raisins, whatever) won’t do it, food won’t do it, then I guess they are just going to have to verify their claims rationally and empirically.  Yeah, somehow philosophy wins over food and sex for me.  Sorry, religion.

Re-reading oneself June 28, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

I just had a realization.

The more I (re-)read Nietzsche (although, how does one re-read anything, considering how much we change between readings?), the more I feel like I want to read those of whom he writes.  I want to read ChamfortMontesquieu, and more of Goethe.  But (and this was my realization) what I really want to do is keep reading Nietzsche!

Reading Nietzsche opens my mind to a world of concepts to which my every day life is alien, and what I realize is that this sense comes from the reading itself and not from the references or referents.  I’m inspired by the moment, and not necessarily by the potential or the ambition of that moment.  That ambition is not extensive, it is its own reward.  A

And yet….

And yet there is more ambition out there.

This is not unlike the realization, which I have from time to time, that it is the moment of beauty, and not the object of beauty, which is inspiring and awesome.  In a sense, art and our ability to appreciate it is a phenomenon of appreciating ourselves (both specifically and generally, as human beings).  Yes, it was the creativity and genius of the artist which is the efficient cause, but it is the commonality of interior architecture of our minds—the shared culture, language, and worldview of both observer and creator—which is the (metaphorical) location of the art.

Much like the blueness of an object is not contained within the object itself (and certainly not within some ultimate being, whether “god” or some Vedantic/Noumenal/Platonic reality), but within the relationship between our perceptual gear (our brain) and the actual material object which causes the light to exist in such a wavelength as it does.*  And the label, “blue”, a cultural construction used to identify the coherence and consistency of our shared experience (Assuming we are not color-blind), is mere convention of course.  We could learn new labels, but the material reality is not conventional.  It is real.

No, there is no inherent beauty, no inherent color, and no inherent meaning.  The world actually is—there is a reality and it is not an illusion—but there is no inherent perspective before we create it by perceiving.  There is no objective perspective, whether it be a “god” or some set of Platonic ideals.

Similarly, there is no inherent me, only the passing self that will change upon each re-reading.  In a very loose metaphorical sense, we are a book we are constantly re-reading.  And while the subject is unchanging and (perhaps) the words are the same, each time we look at it we come from a different point of view, we notice different parts of the narrative, and perhaps we remembered this or that part differently than we see on this reading.

Each time I re-read a book such as The Gay Science or The Catcher in the Rye I see it from a different point of view.  But the same basic phenomenon is the case each time I look into myself.  Depending on mood, memory, experience, etc I am a different person each moment, even if I know I’m holding the same ‘book’.

I still want to read some Chamfort, if only to make sure that the next time I re-read myself, there is some new perspective from which to read.  It is when we stop desiring new peaks to view the world from that we become bored–and boring!

*We never actually see the noumenal object not because the noumena is inaccessible to us, but because that concept is a category error.  The object does exist on its own, but the perception, including the color, shape, etc, are a simulation based on a physical relationships with the object.  The concept of noumena is an attempt to project that simulation onto reality, where that noumena is, in fact, merely an abstraction of the phenomena.  The noumena, in short, is a fabrication; an attempt to project our linguistic and cognitive constructs onto the world.  The noumena, therefore, is not inaccessible to us, since we create it.  This is precisely what many atheists, myself included, mean when we say that we create gods.  I’m an atheist, in part, because I recognize that we create the noumenal through projection of our own perception onto reality.  I don’t reject the supernatural because I am an atheist, I am an atheist because I reject the supernatural.

Also, I wanted to add this video here, not because it is (directly) related, but just because it’s amazing and beautiful.

I never meta eulogy of an idea I didn’t like April 21, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

In dealing with periodic depression and even moments of feeling invincible, powerful, and brilliant (which I know I am not), I sometimes have this sensation of this overwhelming sense of certainty concerning the thoughts which inhabit my mind.  When I feel confident, I believe it.  When I feel powerless, I believe it.  And sometimes, not often but significantly, I have another kind of experience associated with a different kind of certainty; not of the nature of the world, but of my relationship to it.

It is a feeling of transcendence, being able to comprehend issues in a way which are barely articulate, but which my mind is able to dance with freely for a little while.  And then it goes away, and I am unable to describe it well in many cases.  Sometimes, these ideas turn into blog posts.  This is not an example.

In fact, the idea I did have earlier today, while at work, fizzled away as I had no time to jot down the mnemonic phrase which would have stored it for me for later.  This post is, in fact, started as an attempt to resurrect this idea, but is turning into a meta-idea about a dead idea.  A eulogy of sorts.

The ideas contained here are the neighbors of this idea, vaguely related by adjacency and possibly kinship, but missing it almost entirely.  Like the dead, I can now only speak of it in vague, impersonal terms.  I knew this idea, for a moment, but it is gone now perhaps to never be met again.  So, rather than merely despair at it’s loss, perhaps we should meet it’s family and perhaps a piece of it will shimmer through them.

There is a feeling that I have, sometimes, which I could call spiritual.  In fact, I used to think of it in this way (sort of), until I started to think about the concept of spirituality and found it to be an empty, meaningless term.  It simply does not point to anything.  It seems to point to something, and this seeming is tied to very powerful parts of our mind, and so this seeming is overwhelming and convincing.

I am not sure, but I think that this type of experience is what people refer to when they talk about having spiritual experiences.  I’ve had them all of my life, but never associated them with either god or anything else supernatural.  What association I used to have with them, while younger, would have been with some sort of Buddhist enlightenment, Taoist insight into the Dao, or perhaps even apprehending a part of Tillich’s Ground of Being.

But don’t worry, you have not lost me to any religious rebirth, or even a crisis of lack-of-faith.  In fact, I have been aware of such concepts, both intellectually and experientially, for many years.  I just never interpreted them as anything (much) more than my brain being weird.  In centuries past, I might have had little choice but to choose a religious life of sorts, having the proclivities to think about things in the ways that many mystics have in the past.  I’m glad I’m alive now.  This life is much more to my liking than that of a monk or strange religious hermit.

Yeah, I’m some sort of atheist mystic.  HA!  Saint ShaunPhilly, indeed.

This sensation usually leaves me with a strong feeling of community and connection to others.  I feel stronger emotional ties to people in my life after such experiences.  I have the sensation of being tied to people around me by some bond, almost tribal in nature, which is almost compelling enough to give the spiritual-but-not-religious some slack.

Almost.

But because I’m also very prone to self-challenging moments of skepticism (OK, cynicism too), I realize that this sensation is an illusion.  And so when I talk with people who get caught up in describing things this way, and tie it to some religious worldview, vague spirituality, etc I am both amused and annoyed.  In such moments I’m watching people rationalize a completely natural brain phenomenon (an interesting one, no doubt) as a spiritual experience, and they are interpreting it as some truth about the universe, and not just a truth about how consciousness often does NOT correlate with reality.

Yes, such experiences teach us things about ourselves, but usually mostly in the context of how the brain processes which make us up operate in relation to reality, and not about reality itself.  Self knowledge and perspective are important, but we do need to have a skeptical method (science) at hand to check our conclusions against.  We need to check our biases, as well as we can, to make sure that we don’t draw the wrong conclusions.

Because when we draw conclusions (which often occurs in a cultural context which is drenched in religious and theological baggage) without skeptical checks, we start to divide ourselves into doctrinal tribes via the similarity of our conclusions.  But we have to be careful to not think I’m talking about religion per se here, because this is a thing we all do (atheists included) and is not limited to religion.

The tribalism which religion utilizes in order to build community, but also to build walls, seems tied to this sense of connectedness which I was describing above.  Granted, for some this connectedness is associated with a human family (these tend to be liberals) rather than a nationalistic or truly tribal connectedness (conservatives).  This sense of tribalism is more fundamental than religion, but religion uses it well.

Religion is not the source of anything accept its own peculiar theological logic puzzles.  Religion is, rather, a strange combination of various cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors and processes.  Getting rid of religion would solve nothing.  Instead, we need to be focused on improving our awareness of how the basic parts of human behavior–emotional blind spots, cognitive biases, and social herd behavior–influence our worldviews and beliefs, so that we can be sure that those beliefs are rational.

In short, we need to be more aware of how our private experience leads to emergent properties in human behavior.  We only have control (limited though it is) of our own mind, and our influence of others will grow from this.

Have you ever been socially talking with a bunch of liberal-minded people about religion?  You know, the types who are not religious themselves (or only vaguely so), but who will speak very respectfully about religions and view criticism as some angry and irrational hatred of other people’s beliefs? They don’t believe any of it (or most of it, at least), but they will not tolerate criticism of people’s sacred cows.  You know, those shouting “Islamophobia” recently.

No?

Well, I have.  Hell, I graduated from  a Quaker school in liberal Philadelphia, so this was my upbringing.  What I learned, over the years is that in many cases what is happening in such encounters was that these spiritual thoughts, feelings, and experiences are somewhat common, especially among sensitive and educated liberals (remember, I’m a liberal in many ways myself, so this is in many ways an internal, and in some ways a self-,criticism).  To criticize the concept in general, and not just specific theological claims, is to criticize their own experience (and thus to criticize them).

And I hope I don’t need to tell you that while liberals are much better, at least where politics comes in, at maintaining a rational scientific literacy and understanding, they fail in many ways.  Profoundly.  Big Pharma, sophisticated theology, theistic evolution,  and…dare I say it…New Age….

This “spiritual” awareness it pretty ubiquitous, and pulling away the curtain to reveal the “wizard” behind it is pretty unsettling.  And when people are unsettled, they act tend to act poorly.  All people have qualities, deep inside and unchosen, which are good and bad.  The problem is that religion allows you to rationalize the bad ones, while giving you the sensation of having provided the good ones in the first place.  The sense of community of an idea, of connectedness and belonging, makes it feel acceptable to rationalize terrible thinking.  Because while most of us have the impulse to think certain things, having an organized group of people who call that idea the truth is a means of escape from thinking more about it.

Skeptics and atheists are not, qua skepticism or  atheism, mean or overly-critical people.  But without a doctrine to appeal to, a skeptic is forced to use reason (and hopefully they will do so) when faced with a challenge.  But those who are attached to the spiritual, the religious, and to theology have a bubble around them which keeps them further away from the skeptical tools they have access to.  They are capable of using those tools, but when emotions come into play, they seem to be too far away to get  hold of.

Here’s to more people abandoning that bubble.

And here’s to an idea, lost, but which was born within the family of these ideas and which may one day be raised again.

Maybe on the third day.  I do go back to work then, so it would make it most annoying for it to be then since I’ll likely forget it again.

I swear, if the universe is somehow conscious, it’s a total dick….

Thorough and Perpetual Skepticism March 26, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

Skepticism is a method.

I’ll repeat.

skeptical-method-by-amySkepticism is a method.  It is not a set of beliefs or even tentative conclusions (it leads to the latter, however).  You cannot be a skeptic for a little while, come to some conclusions, and stop being skeptical.  OK, well, you can do that, but doing so is counter-productive, assuming you care what’s true and not merely a little better than what you used to think. I mean, if all you want is to ditch Christianity, and you use skepticism to do that and get to Scientology, then it did it’s job, but you left the job partially done (and poorly, in that case).

You have to keep that toolbox open all the time, apply it to new information, and make sure that old information is challenged in light of new data.  It may sound tiring, but being a skeptic is perpetual, and should be applied periodically.

I mean, sure, enjoy your life and don’t constantly analyze information skeptically, but when you hear new claims, be skeptical and either talk it through then or investigate it later.  Assuming you care about whether that thing is true, which brings me to the other thing.

You should be skeptically thorough.  

You should question your assumptions, carefully analyze your worldview about all sorts of things.  Again, not constantly, but periodically at least.  You should be willing to apply the tools of skepticism to all of the important ideas and behaviors you have, because you might miss some set of assumptions if you fail to do so, and end up living a silly lie for no good reason.

What happens if you don’t do this?

Well, being around the atheist community for many years, I’ve seen people find skepticism, apply it to their religious beliefs, and either accept some other religious or spiritual belief because they didn’t follow through or simply stop after doing so.  This is how Christians become Pagans or atheists who oppose inclusiveness in our community and larger skeptical movement.  I’ve also seen tons of skeptics become atheists (as they should) and then fail to apply that skepticism to other things, like Men’s Rights Activism, for example.

No! just no....

No! just no….

Or monogamy.  You know, the acceptance of possessiveness and exclusivity in romantic relationships.  That doesn’t make any sense, except as a rationalization of jealousies, fears, and other unsavory behaviors towards people they supposedly “love.”  I both laugh and cry when I see someone declare love with words clothed in possession (you are “mine”, you “belong to me”, etc). It’s absurd.  I mean, sure, if you simply are not into anyone else, then fine, but if so you don’t need to be possessive or jealous because your happiness with monogamy has nothing to do with the fact that it’s not all about you.

If you love someone, them loving other people should not matter.  Hopefully, they love you too, and you should be willing to share.

I’ve seen the same thing, in reverse order, in the poly community.  Somehow these people come to realize the absurdity of this possessiveness and exclusivity, but don’t think to criticize their basic beliefs about the nature of reality.

I know, I know, I’m weird because I think about stuff like that naturally.

—-

Strengthening your tools

I think that the more aspects of your life you apply skepticism to, the better skeptic you can become.  The more ideas you get over, the easier it can become to think through other ideas.  Don’t stop questioning just because you gave up religion, monogamy, or chasing Bigfoot (seriously, does anyone still really do that?).  Keep applying those tools, and you will be better for it in the long run.  It can be tiring, emotionally, cognitively, and socially, but there are others out there who are willing to help, befriend, and accept you as one of us weird skeptics.

The Devil, Lies, and Atheism March 20, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

“The Biggest ruse of the devil is making us believe that he doesn’t exist,” said Baudelaire.  Except the devil does not exist.  The ruse here only makes sense within a very specific framework; Christian mythology.

H/T atheistcartoons.com

H/T atheistcartoons.com

There is a meme, a lie, really, within much of the Christian world that atheists are Satanic, or at least deceived in this Baudelairesque fashion.  According to this meme, the devil is a liar, thus atheism is a lie.  This idea is rooted in Christian scripture where Satan is seen as the father of lies:

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”

(John 8:43-47)

So, if you accept this mythology as true, or at least inspired by a god that tells the truth, then thinking of atheists as living a lie makes sense, right? Well, I suppose, but let’s look at it this way.  The devil is a character in a set of stories–the mythology which emerges from the biblical collection of books.  This character is, by definition, evil and wrong; the narrative of the story is such that he loses, eventually, and in the mean time his power in the universe is based upon deception and lies.  Those who do not believe the story of YHWH and his various acts through “history” are seen as, essentially, conspiracy theorists who do not accept the “truth.”

But this myth cannot be stretch onto the terrain of reality.  Christianity is simply not true, and to try and live it as real can only go so far before the fabric tears and reality pokes through.  But for those who are deluded in this strange and inhuman form or LARPing, those of us who are not playing by the rules of that universe will be pegged as a kind of “muggle” who has been projected as wearing a devil mask.

We can’t seriously despute the reality of the story, can we? We can’t really actually not believe that God exists and that Jesus is our savior, Mohammed is the seal of prophets, or whatever Mormons believe, right?  Because they are convinced of the truth of their worldview, when we enter their periphery we are forced into their role-playing and seen as playing characters which represent us in their narrative.

We are devils, liars, and we have been draped with a cloth of deception to make us fit into their worldview.

But from the atheist point of view, we are a bunch of people who wandered into their D&D, Harry Potter, or Christian universe where everyone within it is LARPing fully in character. So while we know it’s all pretend, from the point of view of the players we have to play the role of muggles or devils, otherwise they have to break character.

atheismExcept, in the real world, there are people who don’t know they are playing a character, they think that the role-playing is real.  And that’s religion. Atheism is simply being aware that the script(ure) is just pretend, and we cannot believe that so many people take it so seriously.  We simply want them to break character, and enjoy reality.

If you are interested in a great book about the history of the concept of the devil, see Gérald Messadié‘s wonderful book A History of the Devil.