“A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY IS BETTER THAN…”

“A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY IS BETTER…”

Our beaming nine-year old son delivered his insight during a family discussion at the dinner table: “A false sense of security is better than no sense of security at all!”  There was a moment of silence as we all considered the proposal he was floating.  My first impulse was to agree.  After all, it’s good to feel secure, isn’t it?  But soon our ‘parent-mode’ kicked in and we began to pick apart his thesis.  In short order, we listed some of the ways that a false sense of security can lead to disaster.

There were voluminous examples from our own lives.

  • There was the time I was driving our new 4-wheel drive Jeep over an icy mountain pass…my unwarranted sense of invulnerability soon led to our doing 360’s on a road where a 2000’ plunge awaited the unwary. I should really say ‘times’, because this happened more than once.  I admit that I am a slow learner.  I really, really had faith in the efficacy of my 4-wheeler until evidence caused me to think otherwise!  We Atheists escaped from every incident without a scratch – we somehow avoided the plunge into an abyss or into the on-coming traffic.
  • We considered the case of a family choosing to forgo insurance (“We never get sick!”) suddenly facing ruinous medical bills from an unforeseen illness.
  • What about mis-placed trust in a false friend?

Life abounds with examples of what happens when one ignores Reality in favor of a comforting illusion.

Now, decades later, we all still smile recalling that moment-in-time as members of our young family groped towards a clearer understanding of their place in the world.  All of this comes to mind because of a recent excruciating experience on FaceBook.  I watched a video, shot by a relative of mine, depicting a children’s Christmas pageant which was held at the Calvary Early Childhood Center in Pittsburgh.  It was ‘excruciating’ because the video ground on for a full six minutes as the assembled four year olds endlessly repeated the song lyrics that went something like this: “Jesus loves us EVERY DAY!  EVERY DAY!  EVERY DAY!  Jesus loves us EVERY DAY, mumphf, mmmfff, mupmfuf, MUM!”.  (The video was long, but not long enough to decipher all the words precisely…they are only four years old, after all!).  Disclosure: a closer inspection of the video revealed it to be only 1:41 in length.  It just SEEMED like six minutes!  Admittedly, four year old children engaged in choral singing accompanied by choreographed (albeit mis-timed) hand movements is as cute as…well, as cute as Christmas.  Since you don’t have the visual burned in your brain, as I do, it looked like this: Upon singing the words “EVERY DAY”, the kids raised their arms in a ‘raise the roof’ gesture and waggled their hands.  One little girl (dead-center, highest row), dressed in white and wearing a cocked halo above her little blonde head, spun around in a show of ecstasy each time she ‘raised the roof’.  “EVERY DAY!!”  Cute, but the performance went on long enough to allow this crusty, old Scrooge to re-ponder the question raised by my young son all those years ago.

Here, I couldn’t help but think, are these innocents being taught in a pre-school named for Golgotha, the place of terror, desolation and death-by-torture where Romans executed political prisoners, including (so it is said) Jesus.  What they are being taught is that they have an invisible Best Friend, who loves them unconditionally, watches them from above the clouds and protects them from harm.  As these kids grow up, and Evil or misfortune inevitably touches their lives, they will have been carefully taught to first consider their own complicity in their troubles.  They will have been taught that Evil exists because humans have ‘sinned’ or have not accepted ‘God’.  Adding to the absurdity, the core ‘sin’ of which they are personally ‘guilty’ is the one which was supposedly committed at the dawn of time by Adam and Eve!  [A poll at Slate.com reveals that 56% of Americans believe that Adam and Eve were real people! See the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango December 2014 Newsletter for more at Durangofreethinkers.com].  So, the sins of the parents are indeed visited upon the children!   We all are sinners from our first breath: Psalms 51:5 – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

The adults in the audience at [Golgotha] Early Childhood Center, who cheered wildly at the conclusion of this ditty, are apparently sincere in their own beliefs.  But are they doing their children a disservice by cultivating this false sense of security at a time when the kids are too young to be able to parse things out for themselves?  The pre-schoolers will remember the warmth of the approval of their parents and teachers and will have a sense of being ‘special’ because of their communal belief in the unseen and unknowable.  Images like Golgotha and the bloody torture-death of Jesus will become the unremarkable wallpaper of their lives and most will not think to question what they were taught by the adults they trusted at such a tender age.

I love Santa Claus as much as the next Atheist.  I was taught that Santa was aware of everything I thought and did.  That Santa was tracking my behavior in order to reward or punish me for my actions throughout the year.  Santa loved me and wanted the best for me.  Santa believed in ME!  And I believed in Santa because the proof was right in front of my eyes: not only did ALL the adults in my life enthusiastically profess belief in Santa, but there were tangible presents under the tree from the Jolly Old Elf every year!  Proof!  Evidence!  Right there!  The adults in my life continued to encourage my belief, until the year they didn’t.  I was crushed to discover that I had been mis-led for the first eight or so years of my life.

But at the same time, my mother’s determined ‘faith’ in Jesus was never disavowed (as her ‘faith’ in Santa had been) even when she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Her life ended in confusion as her beloved Jesus allowed her to die in agony…how could Jesus have allowed this to happen to HER, she continually wondered?  She died, without finding the answer, still clutching the tattered shreds of her false sense of security.  The same false sense which was indelibly instilled during her childhood, long before she reached the age of reason.  Her ‘faith’ was so strong that she rejected me, her ‘only begotten son’, turning her face away from me on her deathbed rather than accept the fact that I am an Atheist.  Her false sense of security caused her to reject her actual, physical, present, real family in favor of her invisible, unresponsive, friend.

Is there a downside to religious belief?  Yes.  Religious belief is a classic example of a False Sense of Security.

  • The focus of The Believer’s life is to gain rewards in an invisible Kingdom in the Sky. Additional brownie points accrue to the Believer’s account if he/she brings along additional souls.  This represents a lifelong mis-direction of one’s attention to things that don’t exist.
  • A religious false sense of security marginalizes the here-and-now and encourages the notion that there is an afterlife that is more important than the Life we are actually Living. This can easily lead to poor life decisions.
  • It requires people to spend their precious time in a perpetual posture of submission, abasement, and guilt for imagined ‘sins’.
  • It re-directs energy into fruitless and destructive missionary and proselytizing efforts.
  • Those efforts, in turn, destabilize/destroy social structures of other cultures and demean, insult and condescend to individuals who are subject to the unwanted attentions of religious zealots.
  • It fosters an unhealthy obsession with Death and dying which is easily recognized when it occurs in other (read: Islamic) cultures but is blissfully ignored in our own. Christianity adds the taint of torture and blood sacrifice to the background noise of superstition and dogma that children accept from their parents and teachers without question.
  • It often leads to a smug, self-satisfied world view which stunts intellectual growth and kills critical thinking. Witness the Creation Museum, Intelligent Design, etc.

It has been postulated (Dawkins, Hitchens) that Religion is a virulent virus that infects the human mind.  Once the virus is introduced, it is difficult (if not impossible) to remove.  It becomes a lens of un-reality through which all else is distorted.  Atheism is not The Answer.  Rather, it is simply a means of re-focusing our energy by discarding pre-Bronze Age superstitions and concepts while we continually search for evidence-based Answers to Life’s questions.  Atheism is an attempt to experience life free of the distorting False Sense of Security that comes with the religious traditions with which we were all raised and which now saturate our daily lives.

Yes, the religion of your childhood may provide a sense of security, but a false sense of security is no substitute for the security that comes from being in touch with Reality.

Thanks for reading … I welcome comments, rebuttals, opposing viewpoints, etc.

larryb

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 17, 2014

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango        December 17, 2014

“For I have done your bidding.  I have slain mine enemies in your name.  I have put women and children to death in your honor.  I have caused great pain among them, for your glory.”  – King David (c. 1011 – 971 B.C.E)

David is credited as being the author of the Psalms (but they were most likely written c. 600 B.C.E.) 

On the Agenda for December’s Meeting

Wednesday December 17th at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango.

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting at 6:45-ish.

Max Macpherson will lead the group discussion.  Max will introduce  the book “On Being Certain; Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not”.   He will lead us as we explore the biological origins of the feeling of certainty.

Project Merry Christmas culminates in the delivery of gifts to ‘our’ family this Sunday, December 21.  Kathleen is our point-person (since she has so much free time!) for collecting the gifts.  Either bring your wrapped gifts to the December 17 meeting OR drop them at her house this week (on the porch or inside the front door).  Kathleen’s address is: 1832 Highland Ave, Durango.

MORE Project Merry Christmas!  For any members who still wish to contribute, we will be taking donations (cash/check) AT THE MEETING to purchase a credit on the family’s LPEA bill OR for a gift certificate to City Market.  Kathleen will handle the donations and convert them into gift certificates.  Make checks out to LPEA or Cash.

Maria Doucette, who normally is our cheerful Santa-in-Chief for the Project Merry Christmas drive, suffered the loss of her grandmother earlier this month.  As a result, she is spending her time this December helping her aunt with funeral preparations and attending to other family details.  We send our most sincere condolences to Maria and her family and we look forward to her return to our group.

As always, CANNED FOOD will be collected for the Food Bank!  Kathleen again!

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NEXT BOOK FOR OUR BOOK CLUB:

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (recommended by Kathleen O’Conner)

Friday, January 23rd 2015 (6:30PM) at Kathleen and Adam’s home,1832 Highland Ave, Durango

Present day Earth receives signals from an extra-terrestrial source…a group of missionaries are dispatched to make first contact.  With God leading the Jesuit mission what could go wrong?

Limited to first 10 reservations!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM

 

UPCOMING BOOKS FOR THE BOOK CLUB include:

Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris  Mon, Feb 23, 2015

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist   March 13, 2015

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor   June 28, 2015

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Greenpeace Activists Irreparably Damage Ancient Nazca Lines

Contributed by Joyce Fontana

http://www.iflscience.com/environment/greenpeace-irrevocably-damages-fragile-nazca-lines-peru-during-publicity-stunt

From I Fucking Love Science: “Pro tip: If you want to be taken seriously when you are delivering an important protest against the destruction of the Earth, it’s best to not desecrate a World Heritage Site in the process.  While this advice could probably be categorized under  “logic for five year olds,” it has apparently eluded the folks at Greenpeace.  Protestors from the group inflicted irreversible damage to the Nazca Lines in Peru when they laid out banners ironically decrying the destruction of the environment.”

Read this and weep.  Here’s what it looks like:

nazca lines greenpeace

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75% of Americans See the Bible as The ‘Inspired’ Word of God

Contributed by Beth Jones

http://www.gallup.com/poll/170834/three-four-bible-word-god.aspx?utm_source=facebookbutton&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=sharing

Beth writes: “I was curious to see how most Christians view the bible since my own experience with my family has shown me that many Christians do not see it as the word of God, but rather an historical religious text that can offer insight and a set of values.

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When My Son Survived a Serious Accident, I Didn’t Thank God … I Thanked Honda

Contributed by Kathleen O’Conner

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/12/when-my-son-survived-a-serious-accident-i-didnt-thank-god-i-thanked-honda/

This mother writes: “Something sad and strange happens when we thank God: we tend to stop there…”

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Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans created this handy chart as a reference for Christians of the Bill O’Reilly ilk who feel persecuted every Christmas season.

o-PERSECUTED-570

She points out, “Religious persecution is real. Suffering is real. But sharing the public square is not persecution and being wished “happy holidays” causes no one to suffer…”.  Stuff that in your stocking, Mr. O’Reilly

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While This Seems Like a Positive Development….

http://www.religionnews.com/2014/12/02/evangelicals-add-support-epa-plan-cut-coal-pollution/

WASHINGTON (RNS) Evangelicals are teaming up with environmentalists to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, submitted comments from more than 100,000 “pro-life Christians” who he said are concerned about children’s health problems that are linked to unclean air and water.

“From acid rain to mercury to carbon, the coal utility industry has never acted as a good neighbor and cleaned up their mess on their own,” Hescox told reporters on Monday (Dec. 1). “Instead of acting for the benefit of our children’s lives, they’ve internalized their profits while our kids (have) borne the cost in their brains, lungs and lives.”

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…There’s This: Over Half of Americans Think Adam and Eve Were Real People

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2014/12/creationism_poll_how_many_americans_believe_the_bible_is_literal_inerrant.html

Click on the link above for details behind the numbers from Slate.com141203_creationChart.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

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Atheists Continue to be the One Group It’s OK to Discriminate Against

http://www.newser.com/story/199726/atheists-banned-from-public-office-in-7-states.html

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Pope Watch

Pope Sez: that Heaven isn’t exclusively for human beings (or post-human beings).  Animals will also enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven!  “The Holy Scriptures teach us that the realization of this wonderful plan covers all that is around us, and that came out of the thought and the heart of God,” Pope Francis said, as quoted by Italian news site Resapubblica.  The Pope then went on to say that “heaven is open to all creatures, and there [they] will be vested with the joy and love of God, without limits.”  https://www.thedodo.com/animals-go-to-heaven-says-pope-866342824.html

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News of the Stupid:

Kentucky Withdraws Tax Breaks from Ken Ham’s Noah’s Ark Project  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/11/kentucky-noahs-ark-tax-breaks_n_6307882.html

All they had to do was abide by anti-discrimination laws in their hiring practices and the state of Kentucky would have handed over taxpayer money to fund 25% of the cost of building Ken Ham’s latest Bible-based tourist attraction.  Answers in Genesis, builders of the Creation Museum, is building a theme park around a giant replica of Noah’s Ark.  But, they insist on screening future employees to be sure each one is a True Believer.  The miracle here is that the citizens of Kentucky will not be wasting over $20,000,000 on this boondoggle.

Atheists: Not Only Reviled But Feared?   http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2014/12/10/swat-teams-train-to-kill-extremist-atheist-terrorists-at-gun-show-convention/

At the annual Urban Shield conference, SWAT teams trained to rescue Christians-held-hostage in a church by ‘…extremist, Atheist, terrorists’.

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Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango Newsletter

with the permission of the cartoonist, Ruben Bolling.Tom the Dancing Bug

See the Tom the Dancing Bug Archive at gocomics.com.  Support Reuben Bolling by joining the Inner Hive!  A mere $10/year for inside stories, early access to new comics and the warm feeling that comes from supporting a comic genius.  Go to http://gocomics.typepad.com/tomthedancingbug/blog for more information.  Join me in The Hive!

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other tidbits which 

you would like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about?

Drop an email to larrybollinger@comcast.net with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!

ON FAITH……..

faith1

 

The topic of faith among those who are religious has always been an interesting subject to me- one that I would welcome further exploration and discussion of but for now, I just had to share the words of a good friend who so accurately identified the myriad of problems with faith.

Thanks to Tony D. for these thoughts on the matter:

It is not that I dislike faith (I do, but that is irrelevant), it is just that in years of discussions I have never heard even a half-serious defense of faith as a valid epistemological method; only emotional appeals, and stories of personal experience are offered when the question arises. 

 There simply is no reason to believe anything uncritically, none, under any circumstances. This is obvious to a normal person; or to a faithful person in any normal realm of life, like buying a house, signing a contract etc; but when it comes to religion, the weirdest things are presented as “reasonable”, and your complete, uncritical and wholehearted belief is turned into a virtue. It is not; uncritical belief is gullibility, and it renders a reasonable discussion of human rights impossible because faith and dogmas are discussion dead ends; there is no appeal. This is so because, in these matters, the source of these “absolute rules” is always portrayed as a mysterious and invisible entity that can never be checked or expected to answer; only the priests are always ready to tell you the Truth. I find it ironic that absolutes, moral or otherwise, are so appealing to so many in one of the countries that most bravely fought absolutist kings and inflexible rulers.

 Discrimination and violence against homosexuals is but one of the many terrible consequences of the faith virus. Some good comes from it too, there are generous charities, truth be told; but we can have the charities without the fear mongering, the child indoctrination, the lies, distortions, living for death, constant and absurd guilt, the delusion that the Universe was created for our use only, that nature is at our service and has no other purpose … and all the other negative consequences of inflexible world views that are sanctioned by god as unquestionable.

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SO Close, yet…A Perspective on Atheist Morality

SO Close, Yet…….A Perspective on Atheist Morality

First, let me say that I don’t speak for the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango group, let alone the wider community of non-religious people.  I just bloviate here, trying to make sense of the din inside my head.  The use of the word ‘church’ in Andy Braner’s blog as a descriptor for our plucky little band of Atheists got me to pondering about the actual difference/similarity between a Christian church and our small gaggle of non-believers.

A BRIEF HISTORY…

The Durango Atheists group is ecumenical in its disbelief: the membership doesn’t believe in gods of any type or description.  This would include ‘God’, ‘gods’, ‘saints’, ‘demons’, ‘angels’, etc.  The entire pantheon of heavenly beings is a non-starter for non-believers.  However, beyond this common belief (that is, our non-belief) we Atheists otherwise run the gamut of political, social, educational human possibilities.

The group was formed several years ago by a few friends, who gathered on occasion to drink a beer and discuss topics of mutual interest.  Non-belief in religion seemed to be a common thread and the gatherings became a regular thing.  One day, John Peel of the Durango Herald wrote an article about the ‘atheists among us’.  Suddenly dozens upon dozens of people crashed the group’s next meeting!  I was one of those.  We came because we were feeling isolated and marginalized by the politics and general social tenor of the Times.  We were thrilled to find a ‘flock’ of intelligent, questioning, receptive and friendly people right here in our little town!  Who’da thunk?

That we meet once a month (more often if you count the Book Club meetings and the special Member’s Talks) is the only similarity there is to a Christian ‘church’.  Like the words ‘temple’, or ‘mosque’, ‘church’ implies a community drawn together for the worship of a Deity.  Worshipping, hymns, prayers, devotions, missionaries…these are activities commonly associated  with a ‘church’.  While we recognize and envy the sense of community and ‘belonging’ experienced by Christian church-goers, we Atheists do none of those things that are the heartbeat of a thriving church community.  We are a Social/Discussion Group, not a ‘church’.  In addition to conversations, our leadership has arranged for us to sponsor a stretch of Hwy. 550 at Coal Bank Pass (look for, but don’t shoot at, our road sign!), we donate to food banks, participate in Project Merry Christmas (ironic, I know) and engage in other activities that enhance the communities in which we live.

Which brings me to the commonality that Christians and (most or, at least, many) Atheists share.  Aside from the fact that Christians and Atheists alike flock together, we all also believe strongly that Humans matter.  Human Life, the quality of that Life, what happens when that Life is over, our place in the Universe are all mutual concerns of both groups.  So far, so good, right?.  Our perspectives on these issues are widely divergent, however.

THAT WAS THEN…

Christians posit a Creator God who brought the Universe into existence with Human Beings at the center of it all.  Human Beings: the Pinnacle…the ultimate, intentional Result and Beneficiary of Creation.  From an early age, this perspective seemed arrogant to me.  It’s a self-satisfied sentiment neatly summed up in Hamlet: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel…”  My view, as an Atheist, also starts with the notion that we Humans are pretty special.  But not at all for the same reason as my Christian friends and extended family.

A review of History (especially the history of religion) reveals that all humans through the millennia viewed themselves as special, privileged beings.  Unable to make sense of the threatening and lethal environments in which they found themselves, they intuited some version of a comforting narrative to the effect that everything must have been created just for them by a Creator.  Not surprisingly, this supernatural being was usually imagined to take the form of the familiar power-brokers of our ancestor’s daily experience:  an all-powerful King or all-wise Father.  These memes stuck through the ages even as Humans began to explore and slowly comprehend the world around them with diminishing fear and superstition.

THIS IS NOW…

Today, our increasing knowledge of how the Universe evolved through unimaginable spans of time inevitably clashes with our ancient ancestors’ creation tales (the Book of Genesis, for example).  Happily, this becomes an issue only when Christians choose to believe the stories in the Bible as literally true and demand the same from the rest of us!  The insistence of teaching Bible stories as Science curriculum comes to mind.  Sadly, an alarming number of Americans subscribe to this sort of belief.

And so, here in the midst of the developing story of our evolution, many of us have come to believe that we are not the privileged darlings of Creation after all.  Instead, we (and everything else) appear to be the result of billions of years of convoluted and unguided evolution on many levels.  It is literally almost incredible!  Startling!  It is also Awesome and Beautiful!

Our journey to consciousness began when our component parts were forged in the stellar furnaces of the first stars.  Countless eons passed as those components were shaped by a succession of events that, today, has resulted in each of us becoming little bits of the Universe that have become self-aware.  The Universe has come to life and is pondering itself through our eyes.  It took 14 billion years to produce today’s world and it continues to evolve, unguided and with no promises.  Humans are not angels at all, but are just part of the continuum of evolution!

We living humans are conscious for a tiny speck of time (relative to the 14+ billion years it took for us to be ‘created’) only to ultimately surrender our bodies back to the Universe that spawned them.  Our blood will cool, our synapses will stop firing and our personalities will wink out.  We will die, having enjoyed a spectacular, improbable few decades of Life.  And that’s it.  This is what the evidence, stripped of wishful thinking, tells us.

I realize that this life-perspective isn’t especially cheerful, but it is consistent with the evidence we have so far gathered.  And I admit that this view was easier to digest when I was in my 20’s instead of my 60’s.  No one wants to die, but I don’t fear it.  Rather, I just regret (very much!) that I won’t be around to witness so many amazing events yet to come!

Not wishfully hoping for a better deal in an ‘after-life’, the Atheist focuses on the NOW, the only precious Life we have.  Christians discount the Now and concentrate their efforts on an imagined after-life.  I’ve seen this attitude in members of my own extended family.  It seems to me that a lot of energy is wasted worrying about ‘salvation’ of souls (from what?) that could be spent improving the human condition in the here and now.

WHAT ABOUT ATHEIST MORALITY?

This naturalistic perspective leads me to view Humans, and all life, as incredibly precious and rare…worth nurturing and protecting.  It values Human Life and all creatures for their own sake, not for the sake of pleasing some ethereal, vengeful spirit.  This reality-based philosophy forms the foundation of my personal sense of morality as a human being who happens to not believe in the ancient gods.  Instead, I strive to live a life which honors the unlikely chain events that has resulted in all of us who share this moment in time together.  For me, this inevitably leads to feelings of awe and reverence for the Web-of-Life of which we are only a part.  It gives me a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of knowing my actual place in the scheme of things.

After the infamous Ken Ham vs Bill Nye ‘debate’, audience members posed questions to visitors at the Answers in Genesis website by displaying hand-written messages on placards.  One question, in particular, captured my attention.  A young woman had written, “Are atheists afraid to live in a universe created by a loving God”?  In response, I would say, “Certainly not!  Show me the evidence!  But now that you mention it, you seem to be afraid to live in a natural universe without God”. 

IN SUMMARY…

No, Skeptics and Atheists are not ‘afraid’ of God…we just don’t see a good, evidence-based reason to worship such an obvious human construct.  Over the years my relatives have become ‘born again’ and I have gradually become estranged from them.  My evangelical extended family is fed up with life on Earth and is ready to be raptured from this miserable planet any day…they’ve been assuring me that they’ll go missing any day now for over four decades.

I have dealt with issues of Christianity and Atheism since I was confirmed as a ‘soldier of Christ’ at the age of 11.  But that’s a topic for another 1000 words on another day!

Thanks for reading; I welcome your comments.

-Larry B.

Belief, Non-Belief and Common Ground

I decided to wait a few days before writing about our recent participation in the first of maybe other collaborations with people of different faiths.

Overall, I think the night was an enlightening and very valuable first step in better understanding other peoples’ perspectives that differ from our own. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the group of Christians attending seemed to be of an extremely moderate variety. And they were also gracious and kind, as was Ted the quasi-Buddhist. I especially enjoyed talking to Harry- a Christian with three sons, two of whom seem to be somewhere in the atheist/agnostic camp from how he described it. Harry voiced to me his heartfelt concerns about his faith and how he has wrestled with his own beliefs. And how refreshing it was to hear DJ acknowledge that he is probably an agnostic theist. One remark I made during the evening was that at the end of the day, we are all agnostics, as none of us can know with 100% certainty whether or not a god exists (much less if that god is in fact the judeo-christian version).

For me, this first  meeting was about focusing on the common ground we all share. This common ground is really not difficult to identify-  it’s the human experience and the human desire to contribute to the world in a positive and loving way. Does it really matter if our starting points are diametrically opposed? For this meeting, it did not. But it would be interesting to delve deeper into some specific topics. I suspect there is still much more to be learned from each other.

One thing Andy mentioned during his talk was that he would love  if all of us in the room got baptized and dedicated our life to following Jesus (while also acknowledging that this is a personal decision). But here’s the thing: we atheists have a wish concerning believers as well. And, as was the case with Andy’s remark, it’s meant with sincerity.

So with that, I’d like to introduce a video that I think aptly expresses, not only what we non-believers wish for believers, but also beautifully illustrates something far more important than what we would like for each other: our Common Ground.

Enjoy!
(and watch in full screen- the images are beautiful!)

 

How can I be a good Atheist?

So by my own self admission I am not a very good atheist. I am a self-described agnostic and I have a sort of, love hate relationship with that term. Honestly I feel it just confuses most people I tell it to and, this as far as I am concerned, is the point. If you describe yourself as agnostic, most of the time you will feel the need to follow that self-description with another non-committal response. My favorite is “I believe in the possibility of something greater than myself, but have not defined it”. If there was a more tactful way of saying “I don’t know but let’s not talk about it”, then please feel free to tell me in the comments. Many of those that describe themselves as agnostics tend to be apathetic. I find this trend stems from the innumerable options on belief and how could one go about differentiating between them in the first place. Secondly I have heard so many stories of people that have gone looking for what may be meaningful to them only to see judgment, coercion or extremism. Many of these agnostics have a very “leave me alone” attitude and I completely understand that sentiment.

I haven’t found my path to be indicative of the apathetic, but of the exhaustive. I have experienced more different spiritual associations than I can count. In some of these cases I have been a silent observer, in others a full-fledged parishioner, and in more than one case a fish out of water. It did not matter if I found the experience exhilarating, enlightening, or frightening, they were all still experiences that shaped my life and my view of the universe. When I read Karl Marx’s quote about religion being an opiate, I took that as a challenge. I might need a stint in a rehab.

Lately I have found myself leaning toward atheism almost by default and I feel that does a disservice to atheists. Yes, I have always been fascinated with science, the discovery of knowledge, and so many of the scientific concepts that atheists identify with, resonate with me as well. There are a few of the ground floor philosophies that I still don’t know enough about to have a firm debatable viewpoint on. As I move closer to the central themes of what constitutes a modern atheist I want to learn from other atheists. I want to know how they form their opinions on so many very important matters.

A fellow atheist once told me she kept her own version of a holy text, or a book that was filled with what constituted her sacred ideas. I find this idea infinitely fascinating and very useful, although the more I learn about atheism the more I realize it requires more of a library than one book. I want to know what ideas you keep close to your heart, and your mind. What books do you fall back on when you need a reaffirmation of your beliefs, who do you go to, to feel secure in your decision, where do you go to feel safe and accepted. As a fledgling atheist I need a few “shoulders of giants” to stand on to get my own foundation in this belief structure. In short, I need a few lessons on how to be a good atheist.

-Adrian

The Day After the Night Before

I see that Adrian beat me to the punch, but I also wanted to comment on last evening’s excellent adventure.  First, thanks to DJ, Andy (Christian POV), Ted (Buddhist POV) and Kathleen (Atheist POV) for taking the hot seats in front of the group!

For those not in attendance, there were approximately 50 people there: one or two Buddhists, a slew of Christians from the new Church of the Vine (which is in the process of formation under the leadership of DJ) and the rest were some of the stalwarts from the monthly Skeptics and Atheists MeetUp group.  DJ was Moderator, allowing each of the three presenters roughly 10 minutes to describe the paths taken to arrive at their personal philosophical/religious positions.  Not that there was any doubt, but Kathleen represented herself and our community of non-believers with clarity, intelligence and grace.  Questions from the audience followed, with the entire session lasting around 90 minutes or so.  Personally, I would have continued for another 30-60 minutes, but maybe 90 minutes was a good time limit.

DJ, the pastor and founder of Church of the Vine, Durango, is an interesting and likable character.  Very personable and outgoing, he explained that the idea behind this coming-together of people from different perspectives was to LEARN from each other…no overt proselytizing, but simply an opportunity to expand our social circles in unexpected directions.  We were gently warned not to make speeches or try to poke holes in what the presenters said; instead, we were urged to ask questions that were probing, but respectful, to reveal nuances in the differing perspectives.

  • Kathleen laid out her life’s journey from being a good, Christian girl to a thinking woman who questions Life, demanding provable evidence-based answers.
  • Andy, the Christian representative, presented his life story as one of being raised and schooled as a Baptist/Christian through college who, as an adult, traveled the world engaging people of other beliefs.  Ultimately his travels confirmed his belief in Jesus.  He ‘hates’ structured religion, but values ‘spirituality’.  The type of Christianity practiced by Andy, DJ and the Church of the Vine membership is less concerned with the mystical/superstitious/dogmatic and more concerned with interpersonal relationships among people of differing backgrounds.  They seek the benefits that come from human fellowship that we’ve discussed so often (with envy) in our group.
  • Ted, the self-described ‘pseudo Buddhist’ finds his center in mixing meditation practices with Christian spiritual beliefs.  He was questioned directly about whether belief in a God is actually consistent with Buddhist practice (answer: No).  It might have been interesting, in light of this month’s Atheist Book Club selection (Why God Won’t Go Away, the Neurobiology of Belief) to find out more about Ted’s techniques and benefits of meditation.

Most of the discussion revolved around Christian/Atheist misunderstandings.  For instance, I was anxious to dispel the stereotype of Atheists as being ‘without morals’, lacking a belief in God.  So I asked Kathleen to expound on the basis for morality from the Atheist perspective (basically observing the Golden Rule).  Adam and Ben (an Atheist Buddhist, who knew?) both asked questions that probed the topic of separating belief in the Christian supernatural from the impulses to foster better human relationships and other earth/reality-centered pursuits.  They were asking, ‘Do we really need to believe in Jesus in order to respect our fellow creatures and the environment in which we find ourselves?’  Andy claimed that this question made no sense…he has looked at all of the available world religious beliefs and has put ‘all of my chips on the table’ for the Jesus option…he cannot conceive of NOT believing in Jesus.  This is an intelligent man and he made a touching statement at one point to the effect: “Can’t you just leave us in peace to believe in Jesus and accept us as we are?”

Of course, I think that is the position that most reasonable people make…we all want to be respected and included.  This particular group of Christians claims to be making an effort not to be judgmental and not to be aggressive in promoting a restrictive social/political agenda.  And, to all appearances, they seem to be walking their talk.  So my answer to Andy’s plaintive cry is “Sure, we don’t care what you believe privately to help you through your day.”  But we Atheists or non-Christian religionists want reciprocal behavior from the Christian majority in the US…and we are not getting it.

It is of no matter to me if groups of people want to believe in a magical best friend in private or in groups.  The problems arise when ardent Christian believers take the position that they alone know The Truth and the rest of us are damned, deluded sinners.  Even this wouldn’t be intolerable if it wasn’t for the intrusion of Christian dogma into the Public Sphere.  Intrusions such as the manipulation of history textbooks (the current controversy in Texas to cite Moses as a ‘founder’ of the United States); intrusions into public policy (women’s health issues), the absurd insistence that Creationism be taught as a ‘science’ subject and the like.

The fact is that Western Culture is saturated with Christian perspectives, symbols and belief.  Christians comprise the vast majority of the country’s population.  Given this fact, it’s not in the power of the minority (i.e., the non-Christians and non-believers) to grant the majority the ‘right’ to believe as they wish…they do so already!  It is the Christian Majority that has the power in this country, often impinging on the rights and freedoms of those who believe differently.

In discussing these issues with DJ after the meeting, it was interesting to find that he agrees with many of the sentiments I have just expressed.  He is frustrated and irritated by Ken Ham at the Creation Museum and the anti-science bent of some evangelicals.  He has no patience for political hacks using the Christian religion and public faux-piety as a cudgel to beat opponents over the head.  He is much less interested in the fantastical, superstitious dogma of Christianity than he is in the (alleged) statements and philosophies of Jesus and their practical ramifications for the currently living.  (I say ‘alleged’ because Jesus himself wrote not a single word, nor did the people around Jesus record anything contemporaneously.  Everything we ‘know’ about Jesus was written 70 – 120 years after his death by people who never saw or heard him personally.  Many specifics of the New Testament stories were concocted to address particular problems and political agendas of those ancient days).  Still, the core ‘teaching’ of Jesus is hard to argue with: love your neighbors, your enemies and everyone else as you would love yourself.  If we could just forget the nonsense and concentrate on this core value who, besides ISIS, would have a problem with Christianity?

In sum, last night was extraordinary.  There is much more I would like to ask of True Believers: the existence (or not) of Free Will, the concept of Original Sin and the resulting need for ‘forgiveness’ for each human at birth, the concept of theodicy and how to reconcile an All-Good God with the miserable facts of our human existence, and on and on.  I am comfortable explaining and defending my Atheism…so I expect that others who overtly trumpet their religious convictions to be able to do the same.  I hope that we will have an opportunity to repeat this experiment, often, in the near future.  Perhaps a gaggle (coven?  murder?  clutch?) of Skeptical Atheists should visit one of the Church of the Vine’s Wednesday night services at the Rec Center.  However it is done, I hope we can nurture this tentative connection with people of good will (who reached out to US) who nevertheless espouse philosophies so different from ours…we have a lot to learn from each other and nothing to lose.

-Larry B