Friday, March 19, 2010

To my friend

This is a post to a friend of mine from facebook (who shall remain nameless). I thought I'd write it here, just in case somebody else might enjoy it.

God would not be a good king. Here's why. He doesn't exist! It's hard to have a ruler, when that ruler is fake and made up. I know many of you think he is real, but the fact remains that you have nothing to substantiate that idea, no one does.

Seriously though, here's why.

Let's say hypothetically, that there is a god, and that god is the god of christianity (new testament version). He is love, he is good, etc...
If this god is love, then he also must be hate, by definition. One cannot have love without hate, because the two ideas are opposite sides of the same coin. Just as hot is to cold, tall is to short, etc... so love is to hate. One without the comparative other causes the one to have no substance. If everything was hot, then how would we know hotness. It is only through comparison that we can differentiate. So it goes with love and hate. So, if god is love but necessarily also hate, then he does not, cannot love everyone. He has to hate somebody. The question is, who does this god hate?
As a king, this god would not be benevolent to all, only to those he loved. Some people would be screwed. As Lincoln said " you can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time". Indeed, this god as king would be no different than most other monarchs that have at some point ruled nations. Now, of course to me, this is completely sensible, because the christian idea of god is so transparently man-made. God resembles us, not the other way 'round.
The founding fathers were intent upon eradicating monarchistic rule. The very basis of the political system put in place by them was done so with the intention of escaping divine right tyranny. The furthest thing from their minds was that the new country would be wholly saturated with knee-bowing christians. Why else would they have included a clause in the bill of rights regarding the freedom of religion? Such a provision was constructed precisely so that a governmental administration COULD NOT proclaim an official religion to the people of the country. Personally, I wish it had been a clause stating freedom FROM religion, but that's neither here nor there.
The current commander-in-chief is apparently not to the liking of many people out there (including my friend). I often wonder how much of the consternation is due to the person or the ideas. I hold the thought that such demagoguery and vice-versa, idolatry (George W. for instance) is a very dangerous practice to make regular use of. I did vote for our current president, and I like some of his ideas, but I certainly do not think for an instant that he has been divinely placed in the position he is in. Nor do I think that W. was the tool of Satan (who certainly doesn't exist). It's true, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I don't begrudge anyone that, I hope no one will begrudge me mine. The political system we have in place is so much better than one which would place a fictional invisible sky-daddy ruler in charge of what is closing in on 7 billion people, many of whom would die before they would ever falsely confess a belief in said deity. The idea that a divine monarchy ruled by the christian god would be the best possible political construct for America and the world is more than ludicrous, it is saddening. That being said, that's all I have to say on the matter. Pleasant night all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I haven't written anything in a while and there's a reason. I have recently returned to school to pursue my doctorate in trombone performance. Because of this, I have had precious little time to devote to thinking of and writing on subjects for this blog. I apologize, and I hope to find some time to return to it in the near future, but for the time being I am ensconced in academia. Stay tuned though, because part three is hovering off in the distance, that part being On Location, where we think we are as opposed to where we physically are.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Time, Space and Being, part two

The last blog post was about how we misinterpret time, it's flow and our existence through that flow. Having established that we do not exist within the confines of time as we think we do, and therefore our ideas about god and the religions that surround him/her/etc... must be mere constructions, we can now turn to the second part of the discussion, matter.
Matter exists. Unlike time, it is a physicality. We are made of matter, the earth, the stars, every molecule and quark is a form of matter. Matter is the stuff, when we talk of stuff. It is easy for us to live our lives knowing this never really giving the issue much thought, but as we do with time and it's flow, when we glance over the underlying structure of matter, we allow ourselves to construct strange pseudo-realities that, while based on the taken-for-granted underlayment of material structure, are nonetheless leaps and bounds outside of sensibilty. I am of course talking about the ideas that we are immortal, that our physical bodies can be ressurected, and go to live, after we die mind you, in a place called heaven, or hell, depending. So let's look a bit closer at that which you and I take for granted in our everyday lives, our bodies.

We can start with our bodies in general. On the surface, they seem to be a marvel of intelligent design. We have all that we need. Fingers for grasping, hands for support and extending the fingers, arms for balance and extention. Toes for precision balance, feet for gross balance, legs for upright stance. A skeleton for internal organ protection and motor movement. Organs for their various functions. You get the point. Our bodies are in an assemblage which allows us the maximum environmental involvement at the macro-level, by having the various organs work in consort with each other. However, our organs and body parts are themselves made of smaller things, without which none would be able to operate, much less provide the services they do. Let's descend to the cellular level. Each of our body parts is composed of a multitude of cells. Each of these cells is tiny, microscopic, invisible to the unaided eye, but there nonetheless. Together, they work in tandem to perform particular functions such as digestion (within the stomach and intestinal lengths), oxygenation (within the circulatory and respiratory systems, via lung cells absorbing oxygen and then transferring it to the red blood cells which co-mingle in the capillaries inside the lungs) and immunization (within the lymph nodes, and white blood cells which help to disengage foreign pathogens and infectants). Each performs it's duty if you will, albeit unbeknownst to itself. A cell has no brain, no thoughts, no ideas. It performs a function that is integral to body as a whole, but that on it's own would be a useless gesture. Our bodies would not live without cells, but the same can not be said for cells. There are many examples of single-celled organisms (yes that is a direct quote from 7th grade biology class, thank you Ms. Pedersen :-)) Cells don't require a larger host organism to operate, but those particular cells in our bodies do a much larger work when combined together. This does not mean the cells in our bodies are more complex necessarily than those single-celled organisms, just more finely-tuned to do particular things. Our bodies are similar to an ant colony in this sense. A colony delegates tasks to individual sections, which when combined together will benefit the whole colony. Of course, cells themselves are comprised of smaller entities, namely molecules.
Since our cells do not have individual brains, then it stands to reason that individual molecules also lack them (especially considering a brain is an organ comprised of cells, which are in turn composed of molecules). Molecules make up everything larger than themselves. Up until now, we have been reducing gross matter to ever smaller constituents. At the molecular level we begin to see matter for what it really is. Molecules are the last step we take before we encounter that which comprises all in the universe we know of. Molecules make up cells (again, thanks to 7th grade biology) but they also make up everything else; water, rocks, air, fire. Although we are bodies, we are more primitively organs, and before that we are cells, and before that we are molecules. So in this sense we are no more than that which surrounds us, living or not (we will come back to what we are).
I'd like to return for a moment to the level of our bodies and discuss solidity. Feel your arm. Go ahead, feel it, touch it. Does your hand go through your arm? No of course not. Why not? Because your arm is covered in skin, filled with bone and muscle. It is solid. So is the chair you are sitting in while reading this, right? Well, I can't push right through my arm with my finger, so there is a bit of solidity involved here, but what about the cellular level. Cellular walls are readily punctured, this is how infection occurs. And since we are made of cells, aren't we not as solid as we think we are? How about the molecular level? Well, molecules are comprised of atoms, which are the singular manifestations of the elements which make up all of the matter in the universe. These atoms are in constant flux, meaning they bombard each other constantly, knocking some molecules awry and replacing the displaced atoms with themselves, thus changing the molecule itself. Molecules are atoms attached to each other via electron-compatability. This means that two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom will attach together because the number of electrons balances and leaves a stable molecular configuration. There is a lot of space in between the specific atoms of a molecule. Molecules are mostly made of empty space; electrons orbiting the nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons. The molecules which make up the chair you are sitting in disallow you from falling through them by repelling you (specifically the molecules of the cells in the skin which covers your butt). The solidity you feel is simply the electro-magnetic repulsion from billions of molecules pushing against each other.
Just as review, because we descended pretty quickly there: Molecules are made of atoms, atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Each descent takes us an order of magnitude smaller. While there is very little solid space inside a molecule, there is even less solidity inside an atom. Almost 99% of an atom is empty space. And whatever taken-up space there is so little as to be almost non-existant. And it doesn't stop there. Protons and neutrons are themselves composed of smaller particles (elementary particles) called quarks. Electrons are themselves elementary particles and are thus not composed of quarks. The space between quarks is even more ridiculously wide-spread. The only thing holding protons together are gluons (these are force-carrying particles, which transmit the strong nuclear force, which is what holds the protons and neutrons together). We are made of organs and there is space between these organs. Our organs are made of cells and there is even more space between these cells. Our cells are made of molecules, of which the space between widens fantastically. Our molecules are made of atoms which are held together by the stability created between the balanced number of electrons (nothing else), and the space between the atoms in a molecule is also immense. Our atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, where 99% of the space is empty. Our protons and neutrons are made of quarks, which are also almost completely empty.
On the sub-atomic level, we are comprised more than 99% of empty space! I'll say that again. On the sub-atomic level, on top of which all other components of ourselves are built, we are mostly empty space. This is as reductionist as you can get. reduce everything down to the most basic level and there is really nothing there, well almost.
As in the earlier post about time, this true nature of matter and how we are composed, makes it easy to see that all of humanity's endeavors are constructed as a house of cards. From politics, to religion, everything we think, we think from an assumptive standpoint. Since this particular blog is meant to derail religion, let's stay there. Religion says we are more than are parts. There is something that is non-physical about us. Religion would say of my deconstruction above that it is valid but irrelevant, because that which makes us is not part of the physical world, but rather the supernatural one. This is a stance that can be easily taken when one looks no further than the conglomeration which is our natural physical body. Like a person who listens to a piece of music and finds more than just the note patterns, the religious person looks at his/her body and finds more to it than what is there.
This can be done because the religious person assumes that the consort that the body works inside of is something that is greater than what the individual parts would be capable of. The complexity we see at our level is assumed to be an impossibilty for smaller much simpler component parts. This is the moment of truth, for it is here that the assumption leads some astray. The assumption is this: Complexity cannot arise out of simplicity. This is wrong. Complexity is the result of the layering and interweaving of simplicity. It can and only does arise from simplicity. Elementary particles are just that, the most fundamental constituent odf the known universe. when combined, they create a slightly more complex entity, the atom. There is no intelligence governing this intermingling, it is simply random in nature. But remember it is the intermingling that is random, not the coagulation. When combinations are made, it is because the combination is more stable than either previous singularity (not in the sense of the big-bang singularity). So the combination is purposeful, the purpose being a more stable configuration.
when simple atoms combine to form slightly more complex molecules, the process of intermingling is random but again the connection eventually made is not, nor is it intelligent. There is no decision made, nor recognition made that stability has been achieved. It is only that there are stable configurations and there are unstable configurations, those which are unstable break apart for obvious reasons and those which are stable stay together for obvious reasons.
When atoms combine to form molecules, they combine in a multitude of ways, one of which is DNA. The DNA molecule is a stable molecule, one which is also self-replicating. It is only a molecule, but by copying itself, it quickly gives rise to larger, more complex colonies which we call cells, which then give rise to our organs, also many times more complex, and so on. The complexity which we see sits atop the simplicity we can't. This blindness, which existed for millenia before the advent of molecular discovery and study, is what allowed religions to so fervently take hold of the human mind. Religion only exists as a remnant of the ignorance humankind lived with for so long. It serves no purpose beyond artificial comfort and dread. It lies as a testament to the need for further inquiry into the foundations of our world, because without this inquiry, assumptive practices can and most likely will destroy us. Next up, Location.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Time, Space and Being: Part 1, Time

We are. We are here. We are here now.
We are made of stuff. Our stuffiness is called matter; bodies down to organs, down to cells, down to molecules, down to atoms, down to sub-atomic particles such as quarks, electrons, muons. We are capable of recognizing our stuffiness due in large part to the very stuffiness itself. Our brain is made of the stuff the nebulae in interstellar space is, albeit organized in a different fashion. Matter exists, and we know it, because we are it.
We are centrally localized in a particular spot, so far as we can tell in the everyday. We are on a planet, we are on land, we are on a continent, we are within a country, within a state, within a county, within a town, within our house, within a room, within the boundaries of our skin, within the boundaries of our cells, within the boundaries of our molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles. We are somewhere.
We are here now. We were not always here. We will not always be here. The things around us are here now, but have not always been here, nor will they always be here. We float along the river of time, entering at a point and departing sometime after our initial appearance. Time flows, and we flow with it, for a while.
If there are truths to base our lives around, surely they are these three, our knowledge of our substantive corporeality, our existential longevity, and ourselves. We know of these things, inherently, and are supremely sure of them. We feel their truth in our bones. They are esoteric and philosophic topics of interest, as well as the basis for how we humans have and continue to direct the course of our lives. Although simple statements, We are, We are here, We are here now, they betray a much larger mountain of introspection buried beneath the mundaneness of everyday life. It is this mountain of concealed and camouflaged cognition that has tantalized philosophers and the devout for nearly all of our recorded history as the various worldwide religions and philosophical traditions have attempted to dig out some of this (these) mountaintops. Science, particularly cosmology, astrophysics, and quantum physics have been continuously attempting to systematically uncover progressively more and more of the psychologically sub-terrainean mountain of information regarding "matter", and the same have been toiling tirelessly to reveal a bit more of the peak of time and it's seeming flow. For the everyday person, matter and time are taken for granted. They are there, and we know it. We know it, and so there are no really overwhelming reasons for us to think about them in more subtle detail. But a closer look can be an interesting endeavor.
For one thing, all three realms of thought overlap each other (actually there are four, if you include cognition along with time, matter and location). Our constituent matter can be descended down to the sub-atomic level, where it can collide with our perceptions of physical locality, something that can also be descended to the sub-atomic level. These two can then collide, within the physical parameters of our brains, with the flow of time and our over-arching ability to conceptualize them at the micro-level, in manners to be expounded upon later. The concepts are inter-related, and although or perhaps because, their inter-relations exist at the micro, atomic, or even sub-atomic levels, the consequences of these relationships tend to be regarded as unrelated and wholly different from each other, for our macro-level selves. I think it is this unfortunate division that has indirectly given rise to the plethora of religious practices and thoughts throughout the world today. The apparent distance between those phenomenon which are related to each other at the micro level and the everyday consequences of the interaction of those phenomenon at the macro level has given humankind a kind of panacea, a veil of misunderstanding, through which we have created fantastical mythologies, ones that bear no resemblance to the tiny world which allowed their birth. To be fair, philosophy has thrived at this macro-level division as well, but so far as I can tell, religion has subsumed philosophy in the realm of dangerous activity, so it is with this in mind that I'd like to point out a few things with regards to our everyday experiences, and how we take them for granted when shaping our personal lives. Let's start with time.
As we all know, time has a knack for flowing (Or flying if you have a young child). It goes from the past, to the future, with a stop in between for what we call the present. The future has not yet happened. It is a place we can only assume will happen. The past is over and done with, never to happen again. It is a place we can only remember, but not visit. We cannot experience time's flow as it is represented by the past or the future. We either have already experienced it in the case of the past, or we have not yet experienced it in the case of the future. We have three representations of time of which we are currently aware (perhaps there is some other representation we do not yet know about). The first two, past and future, are unavailable to us, which leaves us with the only option remaining, the stopping point in between the past and future. We have the present. The past is an arena in which we can remember what has already happened to us, no matter if we are humans, cats, or a meteorite (the arena remains unchanged) and the future is an arena of time in which events have not yet happened. We do not "remember" the future, it is an arena unchanged, as it has yet to occur. So what arena does the present represent, or better yet when exactly is the present?
Time is divisible, compartmental. If we look at a sign as we are driving down the road, it takes us a few seconds to "live" that moment of seeing the sign. We are "presently" seeing the sign. The few seconds it takes us to see the sign, recognize that it is a sign, written in a language which we speak, locate it in comparison to it's surroundings and it's proximity to us, are about as fast as we can process that amount of information into "seeing" the sign. In this experience, we have compartmentalized the moment into a small increment of time, quick enough so that we take in the necessary amount of information, but slow enough so that we can also process it into the moment of experience. Although we break up time's flow into manageable increments, the increments are only manageable because we need them to be, they are only as such to us, and us alone. We manage our own limited capabilities of time-flow recognition. Time can be divided into much smaller increments than what we can process, namely seconds. Unfortunately, breaking time into smaller increments of measurement is of little use to us in our everyday experiences, but the possibility of doing so in no way places a restriction onto time itself. We are restricted in how small an increment of time we can reasonably process. Its division is of no consequence to time itself.
For example, if we see the sign for three seconds, we are also seeing it for 3,000 milliseconds. Subtract the last 2,997 milliseconds from our experience. What if we only saw the sign for 3 milliseconds? What if we were capable of processing all the information described above in only 3 milliseconds? Then 99.997 % of our 3-second experience of the present would actually be considered the future, having not yet happened. Time has not been altered in this scenario, only the length of measurement we make changes. Interestingly, in this anecdote, our moment of the present has been reduced, meaning the present moment had gotten smaller, while the future has become a bit more distant, sort-of. Well, what if our experience lasted not for 3 milliseconds but 3 nanoseconds (3 billionth's of a second)? Now, 99.999999997 % of our three-second "live" experience is not the present, it is the future. Again, the present moment has lost some of its foothold, yielding a portion of itself to the future-yet-to-come. Indeed, the present doesn't last very long in this scenario. Presence (the present) can be pushed farther back into what we previously were counting as the past. It can be shaved down into an even smaller portion than a nanosecond, however. We need not stop at the boundary of a billionth of a second, how about a billionth of a billionth of a second, or more (or would it be less)? The present can continuously be pushed back away from the threshold of the future into a smaller and smaller increment, always approaching but never reaching infinity. However small we slice time's current presence, that infinitely small moment passes ever so quickly and changes from being the present to the past. The moment no longer exists once it passes, and the smaller we compress our moment of present, the quicker the past takes over. As I said before, time has no qualms about being measured in the smallest of increments; it will flow continuously regardless of how we, or anything, measures its flow. There are no restrictions on time; only we who experience time's flow have limitations placed upon us.

If we simultaneously no longer have the past and we do not yet have the future, and the present moment can be viewed as an infinitely small increment of time's flow, then the question must (and has been) asked " When is it that we actually exist?” We don't exist in the future, only our potential for existence hovers off in the distance. We don't exist in the past, excepting only what remains in our memory. We only can exist in the present moment, but as we now know, the present is, or at least can be, infinitely small in duration? Since time is measured as past, present and future and we don't seem to exist in any of the states, as they have been laid out, it could be said that we don't really exist at all. Of course we don't see it that way. Since I am writing this blog, I must exist. I know I don't exist in the past or the future, and the present, however small, is all that is left, it is here that I must exist. Even though the past and future are not my existential abode, they both, nonetheless exert a considerable effort onto my very small present existence. The past is the more powerful of the two. Through memory, I can adjust my behaviors to accommodate a more happily led life. The past governs the future, and the future, in the form of assumptions-based on past experiences is my map to my destination of a fulfilled life. We may exist in the present, but it is the past and future, which make our existence possible.
Eckhart Tolle's "The power of now" implores us to live in the moment, to forget the past, and not concern ourselves with the future. This is, as the preceding section outlines, clearly not possible. We can experience life only through our past memories and our future expectations. Since I am here to write this, I am pulling on my past thoughts, be they ever so recent, and I am also projecting my assumptive existence into a future I have no assurance will come.
If we are forward looking in our stance, then we must look to what may or may not occur or be set in motion which will be of the most benefit to us. If we are backwards looking, then we must remember those events and decisions, which were good for us as a species and also those, which resulted in negative consequences for us. Certainly, we are both forward and backward looking, and what a good thing that is for us. To be able to remember and project is a very valuable skill. It allows us to evaluate and to risk our lives. On the one hand, the evaluative process, which can take place in the blink of an eye, offers a measure of protection from psychological disappointment and physical endangerment. On the other hand the risk-taking permission allows for possible advancement beyond our current place. The two abilities allow us to plan and reminisce. They allow us to daydream and enjoy our lives. Without these abilities, we would not have love, empathy, or even consciousness. This is because we do not live at the quantum level of time. We don't experience life on the nanosecond level, or even the millisecond level. For example, sound waves travel at 340.29 meters per second. Humans cannot distinguish separate sounds if they are emanating from a source less than 35 feet away. 65 milliseconds between sound utterances is about all the length of time we humans can ever hope to be able to distinguish. If the sound instances occur within a smaller range of time, the sounds will not sound separate to us, as they will not sound separate to us if they emanate from less than 35 feet away. We simply cannot do any better than this. Other animals can do much better than us. Dogs, Whales, and bats are much more advanced in their sense of hearing than we are, and are more testaments to the nature of sound being non-contingent on our sensing it. Our life experiences being on the level of time recognition that they are makes our assumptions about the greater world around us suspect. In this respect, I submit that while our everyday methods and practices for measuring the flow of time, and it's three manifestations may indeed be supportive of them, the general tenets of the major worldwide religions, and by consequence, the religions themselves are contradicted by time's elusive nature.
It is safe to say that in each of the major religions around the globe, one of the main ideas is that that god exists outside of time, or within time, or both. And in some cases, god is said to have created time when he created everything else. Before creation, there was no time, as the teachings go. It is also safe to say that any of these descriptions of god's timely whereabouts, have no real bearing on us. For some of the religions, god's ability to manipulate time according to his wishes, say to stop the sun for an entire day, is certainly important, for it is, to the adherents, just one more thing they can point to say that god is real and involved in their lives. Good for them. However, such a proclamation lends no aid to those who wish to ponder time itself. Since god can exist outside of time, but we cannot, our need for a clear understanding of our existence within time's flow has no need for a god, since he can presumably go in and out of one of the few things we are unable to circumvent.
I have no intention of claiming our misunderstanding of time, as it truly exists (as opposed to how it seems to exist to us), is a complete refutation of god's existence. This is not necessary. What is necessary is to use our discussion from above to analyze the existence of religion. Granted, the various religions are wholly centered on a god, and so it might seem unsavory to examine them from a different standpoint, but let's give it a try anyway.
Since we know our past experiences, which no longer exist except in our memory, indelibly play a major role in the determination of our future courses of action, it is a small step to see that in our everyday lives, a religious tenet, which we might adopt, is one that must be based upon an earlier iteration. We don't reinvent the golden rule every billionth of a nanosecond of our entire lives, although argument could be made to say that’s exactly what we are really doing; however, it seems a pretty safe bet that our memory is supporting us when we say we must "turn the other cheek" and so on. While religious texts primarily have stated the same basic literature over time (I say basically, because as Bart Erhmann made very clear in his New York Times bestseller Misquoting Jesus, the bible for one has been changed many times over the centuries), they are all based on some earlier version, even if the version was oral and not textual. Just as we move from present to past in a flash when we are constantly "seeing" a traffic sign, our present moment(s) of religious understanding pass into the past incoherently quickly. If a computer were capable of mapping every single nanosecond of human thought since our emergence from the savannah, and our branching off from the chimpanzee/bonobo line, the same would be able to trace a clear pathway of the evolution of mankind's religious propensity. God could be seen emerging from the philosophical primordial ooze. Of course no computer exists which can do such a thing and thus this is impossible, but just as biological evolution needs no gapless record to indicate what actually took place, neither do we need a complete psychological DNA strand, call it a RPM strand (Religious Propensity Meme) in order to track religion's rise to power. We can simply look backwards through time, we can accept the past-based future, and work in reverse. From today's evangelical, we can move to puritanical, to prophetical, to Mesopotamian, to iron age, to great ape-hood. From today's hellfire and brimstone, we can devolve to the Salem witch trials, to the "demon-possessed", to the sacrificial goats, to mummification for travel into the afterlife, to the erection of monoliths, to thunder strikes being a psychological terror, to our incapability towards esoteria, being mainly concerned with finding food enough to survive, and mates enough to prolong the family line. these steps are large in spanse. They leap from one era of religious practice back to a much earlier era, but we can do much better in our thought exercise. We can imagine living life now, with all of the silly religious notions civilization possesses, and we can move back a nanosecond. Doing this will reveal no discernable difference between the present and the slightly earlier past. we can keep doing this over and over again, until we see the first slight change (mutation) in the religious thoughts (see we don't need a super computer afterall, we can just use our supercomputer brains). Again, we move back incrementally to the next slight change, and again, and again. As we regress, we can see how more and more primitive our religious ideas are. We can also coorelate their development with our own physical and mental development. In our regression, the less cognitive we are at a given moment, the more primitive our religious ideas. If we continue all the way back to our living in trees along with our great ape cousins, we will encounter every concievable micro-mutation in our religious thoughts. We can see the evolution of how we think today about god, morality, and all that accompanies them. These are a series of small steps backwards, based on the knowledge that we do not experience time, as it truly exists. We instead expand time into manageable sections, and in doing so skip over all of the infinitely small intermediate steps our evolution takes. When we skip over these steps, we very easily build pillars of what we think is the "truth". To paraphrase a biblical account, for purposes of illustration Jesus said, "the foolish man builds his house upon the sand, but the wise man builds his house upon a rock". We are foolish when we assume our understanding of time's flow is the one to which religion can hang it's hat of validation on. We miss a great deal in time-delay. The very idea that the supernatural exists is one that, unbeknownst to most, is balanced very precariously on the edge of collapse. Collapse will come at the hands of time's true nature, and our coming to recognize it. So much for Time, the next blog will be on Matter. Til next Time....

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On prayer again

In my previous post On Prayer, I discussed how the answer of no to prayer is evidence enough to show it's ineffectiveness. I'd like to expound a bit on this. There are two reasons to pray. One reason is because you want to either ask god for something or give him praise. This first reason is the subject of my previous post, and I focused my attentions in that post on debunking this reason; however, there is a second reason to pray and that is to affect some type of change in your surroundings, perhaps your personal life, or perhaps the lives of either friends and family or even lives of complete strangers, such as the president of the united states. There is a little bleed-over to the first reason here, in that if you are praying for a change in your surroundings i.e. 2nd reason, then you are possibly asking god for something i.e. 1st reason. I say possibly because it is not an automatic thing to be asking for something when you are wishing for something. You can pray that change will come around (wishing) but you can also literally ask god to bring about the change (asking). Both ways are considered prayer and so there is enough distinction in my mind between the two that I've decided to split them up this way. Now, a reason for explaining god's choice to answer no to a prayer was offered in response to my earlier blog. The reason was this: prayer is always about god's over-arching will to be served out. As in Jesus' prayer of "Let this cup pass from me, but not mine but thy will be done". God has veto power over the prayers offered to him. His will, will be completed first and foremost in this point-of-view. As an atheist who has no belief in god nor prayer, this idea is perfectly fine with me, yet it is also perfectly fine for the christian. How can this be? I'll tell you.
My point about prayer is that it simply does not work the way it is purported to work. The christian-minded argument offered above is poignant in how clearly it supports my argument. Jesus said "ask anything in my name and it will be done to you". Jesus is god (not really, but you know what I'm saying). Jesus also said "not my will but yours", so in his human-form, Jesus is slightly less than god. If God's will is to be done over our prayers, then prayer is ineffective. It can offer no change to the course of actions god has decided to embark upon, as is meant when God's WILL is referred to. There is no point in praying to a god whose will may or may not coincide with our wants and desires. If a prayer is offered up for the healing of cancer, and the cancer goes into remittance or even goes away completely, you can rest assured that was god's plan all along. He had no need for you to pray, asking him to heal the cancer. Your wish and god's will simply coincided with each other, and as a result it looked like god answered your particular prayer. but that is clearly not what happened. God's will just happened to be for the same course of action and happenstance that your prayers were asking for. Your prayer was no more effective than if you had asked for nothing. Infact it was completely In-effective. God's mind was made up well before you ever uttered a single, solitary plea.
Now, If you offered up a prayer for the healing of cancer and the cancer was not healed, again your prayer was ineffective because it got vetoed by god's over-arching will to allow the cancer to continue eating away your body. In this case your prayer did not coincide with god's will and so it went unanswered (in your mind). There is no difference in a prayer seeming to be answered and one that is seeming to be unanswered. In either case, prayer is a pointless exercise. Prayer is commonly viewed as an active agent in the determining of life's course, but clearly in the argument of" god's will be done", prayer simply cannot induce a change in the environment through the workings of an outside source such as god.
Prayer can be an active agent, in a manner of speaking, if the act of prayer is such that it awakens an internal source for a solution. If it makes one feel up to inducing the change themselves, then prayer becomes an active agent. Psychologically, prayer can be quite a panacea. It can buoy the mind and spirit (physically amounting to the same thing). It can prod someone to begin to search for solutions to the problems they are grappling with, as in the non-biblical adage "God helps those who help themselves". In this case, prayer can offer solace to the sufferers, and a clear-minded path towards absolvement of life's travails. But notice there is no need for god in this scenario. The prayer(s) are not actually being lifted to heaven and heard by the ears and heart of god, who then intervenes on behalf of the praying person. No, god is irrelevant in this type of prayer, other than playing the role of another well-ingrained panacea. It is the person doing the praying who is refreshed by the act and then able to pull him/herself up by their bootstraps to begin the work of solving or at least getting around their problem. In this manner and only in this manner can prayer be a useful tool. To think that praying can actually make a god change his mind about how your life will proceed, is to be naive at best, and it also violates the idea that god's will must be served above all else.
More than anything else, prayer is one of those things that can never be proven or disproven, because it simply exists within our minds. It's kind of like saying there's no such thing as liking something or there is definitely a such thing as non-memory. Ideas are just that, ideas. If the idea allows for the lessening of suffering, then it is a good idea, but only if it does so universally. If it lessens the suffering of some at the expense of others, then it is not a good idea. Religion falls squarely within this category. If prayer helps some psychologically, but not others, then is it a good idea to hold onto as a pillar of having faith? I would say not, because of the very fact that it is so many things to so many different people, but across all spectrums it supports religions which do not always exist for the universal betterment of mankind. The act of prayer may hold some benefit for mankind, but not within it's current light as seen by many christians. And while it may not by itself be evidence enough against the existence of god, it surely doesn't help the christian's cause.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Prayer

Why do people pray? What is prayer? What is a person doing when they are praying? Does prayer succeed? Does it fail? Or both? Or neither?

Friends and family (Christian) have been saying (typing) to me recently, that they are praying that I will come back to god. The have told me that Jesus can fix my headaches, and that wherever two or more are gathered.... so I'm being prayed for. I am glad that people respond in such a way when they hear of my interpretedly spiritual decrepitude. It makes me feel good knowing that there are people who feel afraid for me, because of the life path I am on. I am not gladdened that these people think I am wrong and headed for trouble, that part actually saddens me, and so I return the favor to them by feeling bad that they are so happily misguided. I am happy that these people are concerned with my well-being. That is a nice thing to have, outside concern. My family is the most concerned, obviously, and I have known that for a while. Even though I have thought my way through my beliefs to a conclusion, they seem to think that (because of their beliefs) if they pray to god hard enough or long enough, he will cause me to see the error of my ways, and return to the fold. They have been and are praying for me to be saved (again). They love me, and are afraid for me. They think I have chosen poorly (as though there were ever a choice to be voluntarily made) and as a consequence I will be going to hell. I'm not sure if every member of my family thinks this part about hell. I am simply basing my assumptions on my knowledge that most of them have stagnated in their religious stance for the past 30 years. To be fair, perhaps some of them have softened on the whole lake of fire business, but I really don't think so.

In earlier blog posts I have discussed the fear factor involved in religion, and nowhere does this element seem more clearly illustrated than in the conviction my family has about the need for their prayers for my soul.

I am an adult. I will never return to being a child. I am also A-theist. I will never try to believe in god again. I don't know there is no god, just as I don't know that I will wake up tomorrow. I do however have reason to trust that I will wake up. I take care of my body, I am nowhere near the end of my average male life expectancy and I have no debilitating diseases or chronic syndromes. These are some of the reasons how I can trust that I most likely will wake up tomorrow, alive and well. I don't have to pray that I will wake up; I just rely on the reasons I have squirreled away to come through once again for me. However, I have no reason to trust that there is a god. For all practical purposes, god has always been an invisibility. He no longer walks in the cool evening breeze amongst the flora and fauna of the garden as he did according to the author of the book of genesis. We (no one) has ever seen god. No one has ever heard god, no one has tasted him, touched him or smelled him. The only thing people have ever been able to do about god is think about him. There is no argument to be made about the physical existence of god. He simply has not been here. Which is why we have to "Believe" in him in the first place. If he were here, then belief would be a redundancy. We don't "believe" in gravity, we experience it. We don't "believe" in viruses, we experience their flourish (unpleasantly to say the least). We have never physically experienced god so we have to " believe" in him or not. Having no physical reasons to think god exists, I also have no reasons to think that prayers to him will either succeed or fail. I'll get back to the whole success or failure thin in a moment, but for the time being understand my family and to a lesser extent friends think otherwise.

To them the belief in god, en-masse, is itself a reason to believe he exists. Because the vast majority of all humans who are living or have ever lived, have also believed in some sort of supernatural creator/overseer being, my folks say he must exist, indeed no doubt in their minds about his existence is warranted in light of this fact. Superficially, this is a reasonable position to take, superficially. Everyone believes the sun will burn you if you stay out in it too long with no protection, but how many of us have ever seen an ultraviolet light photon (I say photon not ray, because this is the smallest amount of light that exists). None of us have ever seen one without the aid of a spectrometer, but there's the rub. With the aid of a spectrometer, we can see one (or billions). With the aid of a telescope we can see the rings of Saturn, something the New Testament authors could not do. The problem with such thinking is that there have been many issues over the millennia that have been believed by the vast majority of living folks, the most obvious example being the earth being flat, that have been outright wrong. Just because everybody thinks something, doesn't make it true. If the claim is ridiculous, like the claim made by Copernicus that the earth was not at the center of the universe, then either the claimant must be exiled or the claim itself must be meticulously investigated. Luckily for us, Copernicus' claim was validated, as were Newton's, Einstein's and Planck's. But, at this point we have to ask, well "why do people think something is true if it's possible for it to be untrue?". What do you think? My thoughts are:

1. There are varying degrees of human intellect, governed by genetics and environment, which give rise to varying degrees of depth of insight about metaphysical issues, such as the existence of god i.e. some people are smarter than others, or at least have proven to be so far, and as such have been able to delve deeper than most into philosophical questions.

2. Most people are of average intelligence and have little to no interest in asking deep questions, they simply want to live life.

3. Many "truths" about the big questions were formulated by people living pre-dark ages, pre-enlightenment, in fact just post-iron Age.

4. Those who have subsequently dug into the big questions have perpetuated for most everyone else the "truth" about life.

5. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, it made the cat realize it wasn't a cat, it was a bulldozer.

6. Time has ingrained in the minds of most people, incomplete data sets about the world, sets gathered by folks woefully unaware of much important but unattainable information (germs, molecules, radiation, neuroplasticity, geological deposits, the speed of light and it's inviolability, etc...).

7. The longer intellectual apathy remains, the more difficult it is to replace with new information.

There are many other reasonings I have about why people think untrue things, even in the blinding light of their untruth, but for now I'll go on to prayer. Prayer is something that many people hang their religious hat on as being evidence of god. So I ask, what is the purpose of prayer? When someone prays, they are asking for something from their god. If they are not asking for something then they are not praying, but praising. You can either ask god for something or tell him he's great, that's about it. So when people pray they are asking for something. The point of prayer is to receive something. It doesn't matter what, just something. You can pray for anything you mind can come up with. You can pray for impossibilities, like the destruction in a supernova of our own sun next week, or trivialities like your awaking the next day to find that you are happy again. or you can pray for things in the middle of these two extremes, things like your dog's leg will get healed from the fracture he sustained, or you'll find a job soon, or the weather will cooperate while you're on vacation. There are varying degrees of difficulty about prayer request subject matter, some are more improbable than others. but the thing about prayers that seems to get glossed over is that while we all (well I used to pray) pray so that our prayers succeed (I know of no one who deliberately prays for their requests to be denied) and result in our getting what we are praying for, they most often fail miserably. Adherents of prayer never seem to accept this reality. They do however have an endless supply of excuses for why things didn't turn out the way they wanted; things like " god works in mysterious ways, or sometimes the answer is no" and so on.
The things is, prayer is designed to work for our benefit. It does nothing for god. According to the religious, god owns everything, so for him to give stuff away is not the same as it is to parents down here. For us, the joy of giving our kids stuff can be precisely attributed to the fact that we have a limited supply of such stuff, and although we may get a little smug about ourselves and how hard we had to work to get this stuff, we do know that our kids will enjoy it even if only for a brief time. The sacrifice we made, does make us feel good, since we did it on behalf of our kids, and it was truly a sacrifice. So when we pray for something to happen, or to be given or granted, and it doesn't happen, those prayers have in fact failed, haven't they? For something to fail, effort must be made. With prayer, no effort is made, so no failure can take place. If god is capable of answering prayers, and all the Christians I know believe so, then he is incumbent to do so. Since it is obvious that prayers are regularly unsuccessful, then it stands to reason that there is no god up there, hearing those prayers at all.
A familiar refrain comes to mind now, one that harkens back to the earlier stated " sometimes the answer is no" that is, " Just because we don't get what we think we might want when we pray, doesn't mean god hasn't heard our prayer. It just means that god has something different (and the implication here is better) in mind for us. This is why many prayers go unanswered". I respond to this by asking that you think about this situation: A person who has contracted the Ebola virus by simply living in a region of the world that this virus thrives (Eastern Rift Valley, Congo) prays to the Christian god for healing for themselves. This person dies within two weeks, after suffering through ever-increasing agony as his internal organs are rapidly liquefied. he progressively gets worse, eventually coughing up the lining of his stomach, which is now purely black. The disease destroys his body exponentially, but everyday he prays for healing. His body not only is destroyed but it becomes a harbinger of the deadly virus, which turns him into an Ebola factory. Simply simply breathing it in can spread the virus, and so our praying victim's body is now a spreader as well. His prayers are not answered. He dies. So the question is, what greater purpose did god intend for this person, such that he had to endure the utmost agony prior to his premature death? We as a society gained no more information about how to prevent this disease through his infection, we did not suffer a global epidemic because efforts WERE made to contain the virus (mind you the man was not praying that god would spread the word about the virus, he just wanted to not die). Obviously the man suffered and died, so his immediate prayer was unsuccessful. I have no guess as to what possibly better or more valuable answer god could have been delaying for this man. By the way, if you'd like to read a real author's account of this incident, which did actually take place, read Douglas Preston's The Hot Zone. Also, I'd recommend reading Dr. Bart Ehrmann's great expose on the problem of suffering, God's Problem, how the Bible fails to answer our most important question; why we suffer.
For prayer to work, there has to be someone or something on the other end. We have no idea if there is, so at best prayer is wishful thinking, EVEN IF WE GET WHAT WANT. There is no way to verify that prayers have been answered because there is only an open dial tone at the other end. Inexplicable healings of cancer do not point to god's existence or the efficacy of prayer. They point to inadequacies of our understanding of pathogens. God has no interest in our knowing more about diseases and how to prevent them, and subsequently god's children don't have any real interest in knowing more about this stuff either; they are content with wishing on a star. By praying for respite, Christians and (other praying folk) are testifying to their own willful and preferred ignorance of the real causes of suffering in the world. A great website to make you think is The basic premise of this website is god has never regrown an amputees limb, ever. How is that to be explained outside of the familiar responses of mysterium and "quit arguing with me". Prayer doesn't work, because it can't work without god. God simply doesn't exist. If you think he does, you are mistaken. You might be comforted by the thought that there is something more than ourselves watching out for us, but that doesn't make it so. You might also be comforted by the thought that your prayers will be answered, but you are mistaken. Even if the outcome you hope for eventually comes to fruition, you will have no reason to authoritatively say it was because you prayed for it. I know my friends and family are distraught that I am no longer of their faith, but for them to think that by praying that my mind will be changed/opened/ softened or whatever is simply to misunderstand the person I am. There is no way I could ever believe in a god now. I see too clearly how he is creation of ourselves. If you are reading this, and you are one of the ones praying for my salvation, thanks, but no thanks. Why don't you instead go for a walk in nature, or help feed a hungry person, or teach some child to read, something, anything that would be constructive. While I appreciate the concern, you should know that no amount of prayer for me would/could never work, because your prayer's are unheard by anyone but you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Deconversion

When I was growing up, I was taught that I was a Christian. I went to church with my family every Sunday morning and Sunday night. All of my friends were also taught they were Christians, and they also went to church with their families every Sunday morning and Sunday night. For a good while we even went on Wednesday nights as well. We weren't Baptists, or Episcopalian, or Catholics. My family attended Pentecostal churches. There were people speaking in tongues, people prophesying, dancing in the aisles, and so forth. Sometimes church services would go for three hours or more. I went to Sunday school before church as well. We'd get there at 9:00 a.m. and sometimes not get out of there until close to 1:00 p.m. I didn't really like going to church, but as a kid I didn't have much choice in the matter. My parents were going and did what they did, cause I was a kid. This is not to say, there weren't things about church going I didn't enjoy. I did look forward to seeing my best friends. But mainly so that we could have fun goofing off together in Sunday school and in between Sunday school and the regular church service. During the service we didn't get to screw around much, because important things were going on. God-worship was taking place, so we knew better. But we would still try and screw around long distance. My family would sit on one side of the sanctuary and my friends would be sitting somewhere else. My friends and I would certainly try and make eye contact with each other, and sometimes we'd be able to access some inside joke through our own made-up sign language and the laughing would ensue, which of course led to the inevitable parental reprimand of SSSHHHH!! I rarely paid attention in church, as I suppose most kids don't, but there were times as I grew older that some things would perk-up my ears. I went to three different churches as a kid. The first was a sort of non-denominational, evangelical, Pentecostal church. My family stopped going there when my sibling became a teenager and I was probably 11 or twelve. We then moved to a more fundamentalist church that was a bit closer to our house. I know we left our old church because of some political controversy within the church administration, but I don't really remember what went on. For one thing I was really to young to give a rip, other than I knew that I was going to have to make new "Church" friends. This is why we left, but I still don't know why we started going to the new church, but I do know it was about this time that I started to hear things that made me pay at least a modicum of attention in the service. Once we moved to the new church, we really didn't go to Sunday school much anymore, again I don't know why, but decisions were made, and Sunday school sort of faded into the past. As I said, this new church was very Pentecostal, especially the music potion of the service. But the preacher (she was a preacher not a pastor) was also very hell-fire and brimstone. It was this stuff that started getting my attention. Up till this point I had never really been told of all the horrors of hell that awaited me when I died. It was mainly doing unto others and Jesus healed the sick, and Noah took two of every animal on the ark, and all that business, kid stuff, if you will. But now I was a preteen, and was capable of understanding consequences. So at our new church I sat up and took notice whenever the preacher would single out the youth of the church (not the kids, but the Youth, which definitely included me) as being particularly susceptible to the wiles of life of sin. And it seemed like the preacher was always singling us out, you see, the youth all sat together in one section of the sanctuary, away from our parents (for the first time). She would (the preacher was a red-headed lady, not that being red-headed matters, but it's just something I remember) look directly at us and speak directly to us about how Satan wanted to corrupt our minds and lives, and he was (at that very moment) waging a WAR against our sanctity. To me it was clear that I must have been losing this battle, because as a preteen, I was just becoming aware of my ideas about good and evil. Up till then I was really concerned with how many transformers I might collect come next Christmas. But now I was being confronted with a call-to-arms for battle with the father of lies, who was supremely intent on destroying me eternally. Every Sunday. I remember leaving church feeling sad and rather despondent about my prospects of success against Satan’s legions. Over time, I actually began to feel myself a lost cause, because sometimes in church when I was supposed to be glorying in god's presence, I would literally shiver (not from being cold). Chills would run up my spine momentarily, and at that point I would think to myself, Satan is attacking me with all he can. I would redouble my efforts. I would shut my eyes tighter, I would lift my hands higher in the air, and I would talk gibberish a little more gibberishy or faster. At this point I had been told I should be speaking in tongues, as that is one of the gifts of the spirit, and so I did this at every service, thinking that I was learning the ropes of spiritual battle. Granted, I never thought I was actually speaking some extinct language, but maybe it was a language that had never existed outside of heaven, or maybe god could understand it, even if I couldn't, or maybe just making the effort was enough, I don't know. The point was I always felt discomfort at this new church. Ironically, it was about this time that I noticed for the first time a really pretty girl. Though, she was much older than I was, and had a boyfriend (the preacher's son no less, and I swear I'm not making this up), ahh... unrequited love...., I did look forward to seeing her every Sunday, and was supremely disappointed on those Sundays when she was not there for whatever reason. For some reason, we did not attend this church for more than a few years and then we moved on to another church, one which was actually farther from our home than the very first church we went to. If I remember correctly, the impetus for this change was again political controversy, but of what nature, I'm sure I never knew. Nevertheless, my sibling had made some new friends at high school and really wanted to go check out the church they went to, they were so cool. So as it turns out, we did just that. In addition, our old church music minister, who was one of the highlights of the church (great piano player) had moved to this new church as well. Now, I personally was hoping at this point that the new church would be more like the first church I remember, and not so much like the last church. It actually ended up being about halfway between the two. Although the services themselves were about as long and as athletic, the pastor (he was a pastor not a preacher) was a bit less hell-fire and brimstone, but to be sure, that stuff was definitely still a big part of the experience. I was in high school now, so I was particularly aware of the females surrounding me at church. This is important because, I found that if I wanted to impress the ladies, I had better show some reverence before god. My thinking was " These girls are gung-ho Christians. If I become gung-ho as well, that might be my in with one of them". And so I embarked upon my phase of radical Christianity. Mind you, at this point it had less to do with my dread of the afterlife fate that surely awaited my sinning persona, as it did with my here-and-now predicament of landing a foxy lady. I had had a few "girlfriends" in middle school, if that's what you'd like to call them, but I had had many more unrequited crushes than actual girls, during that time. I was however, supremely aware of my Casanova guy friends who were always hooked up with the finest girls in school. I was JEALOUS! I wanted a hot girlfriend now. So, I figured this was my path to amour, being all Churchy. What's more, I think every guy that went to this new church of mine was doing the same thing I was. Maybe not, but I suspect as much. Anywho... I'm not sure my devious and not-so-clever plan actually worked. After a year-long pursuit, I did get a girlfriend for a summer out of the deal, and she was hot. But the summer fling didn't last, even all summer, she hooked with a new guy at our school before the summer was even out, HUSSY :-) but that is neither here nor there. The real point of all of this is, I approached religious conviction with ulterior motives in mind. It was a means to an end, in this case the end being success in love. I did not really think about the tenets of the particular faith I was being fed. All I knew was that there were hot girls there and I wanted in on some of that. At my previous church, I had unbeknownst to me, developed a pretty healthy personality aspect of self-loathing. I remember in late 1987, the preacher at this other church told the congregation that a mathematician had calculated that Jesus' return was going to happen on either September 11,12,or 13 of 1988. I was petrified at this news. I figured, I'm screwed, I've only got a year left (not even that) and I'm only thirteen years old. I'm not gonna get to learn how to drive a car, I'm never gonna get laid, no getting married, having kids, none of that. The world is going to end and I'm fucked. of course that guy was wrong, and when those days came and went, I felt relieved and also a bit perplexed. I think this was the very first time I asked a question about Christianity’s truth. I figured, " Jesus didn't come back, but he said he was going to, so why has it taken so long, why hasn't he come back yet? I remember thinking the world was probably as bad as it was ever going to get, so what was the holdup.
For a while I was convinced I was the Antichrist. The shivers I would get in church made me think I was somehow naturally averse to the Christian teachings. I would get the heebie-jeebies in church, but nowhere else (this is actually not true, I got the shivers in school too, I just selectively forgot those times). I just knew I was going to turn out to be the Antichrist. It always seemed to me that if I wished one thing, the opposite would happen, good or bad. I think this contributed to my confusion over my supernatural apocalyptic role, in some way. During my middle school years, I learned from church that I was going to go to hell, most likely, because Satan wanted me. I never really learned that god wanted me much though. I know, I know, god loved me enough to save me from sin through his son's crucifixion and all that. but that happened 2,000 years ago, according to my middle church (the really Pentecostal one) Satan was after me right then and there, as soon as I walked out the building I was going to be under attack. As they say, there's no time like the present, and to me Satan was going full-tilt and god was resting on his laurels. I figured I had no chance, thus I came to think I might be the antichrist. Believe it or not, this thought persisted with me in a much hidden and subdued sort of way until after high school. I buried my worry, but it was always there. My rebellious stage in high school was probably due in part to this deep-seated paranoia, that and I was an adolescent, chock-full-of-hormones, guy. All throughout high school, I went to this new church, although it eventually became just my church. the girls were certainly a huge attraction (pun intended) but I was also drawn to wanting to be like the cool older guys there as well. I went through a copycat phase, where I wanted to play all the same instruments as this one guy who was about 7 years older than me. The church had a band which played for the music portion of the service each Sunday, and so I joined, thinking I could boost my coolness factor by doing so. I unwisely thought I could single-handedly buck the band nerd moniker and effectively be the salvation of all instrumentalists worldwide. To this day it has yet to work, we are all still nerds. I also wanted a low rider diesel truck, because one of the guys at church had one and everyone kinda thought he was cool because of it. I desperately wanted to be cool.
There are times when I was moved at church. The Easter services were usually moving to me. The church would put on a cantata (not in the liturgical sense) and usually have someone dress up as Jesus carrying his cross, with a crown of thorns, bloody, up to Golgotha (where he was crucified). Then the troop would act out the crucifixion itself complete with the big hammer, accompanied by thunderous booms for effect, and big-ass railroad spikes as nails. it was always a tear-jerky moment. Suffering is never a happy time. I would cling to these memories during the rest of the year in order to prop up my faint faith. If for no other reason than to maintain the facade of devoutness for the girls, I honestly tried to feel like a Christian as often as I remembered to do so, which wasn't very often (usually there was hot girl near me). But the thing is, I never really felt like a Christian, at least not in the ways I saw on display around me. When I would hear someone give some tongue-infested prophecy, I would feel uncomfortable. I was always a little nervous if someone spoke out in tongues during the service and nobody would come forward to "interpret" it. I was uncomfortable and also a little sniggerish. I would sometimes smile a bit to myself if this happened. I knew those tongue-speakers were full of it then. Now, I tried my hand at the tongue-speaking for a good long time, but I never really thought I was supposed to be doing it. It was more like wind sprints on the baseball team for me. The running had little to do with playing the game, but they did force us to get a bit of exercise. The situation was similar to my speaking in tongues, I knew I'd never really be in the prophesying game so-to-speak, but I practiced the skill nonetheless. but these moments in church where no interpretation would follow the Swahili being spouted, I finally figured it out, everyone was making it up. Then I realized nobody was speaking a real language, it was all just gibberish, not gibberish-sounding to the ignorant, just plain old gibberish. I think I lost a bit of ability to be a Faither around this time.
After high school, I went to college. For a year, I lived at home and went to junior college. I had stopped going to church by now, placing myself instead with the church of drinking beer and hanging out with new college friends. I didn't give much thought to the Christianity of my youth, but it was still there. I spent my time drinking, working, studying trombone, trying to get laid, and so forth. It was at work that I met my wife (future) who come to find out was going to be a nun before she met me, heh, heh, heh.... That's right ladies, she gave up celibacy for a life with me. Seriously, she was a devoted fairly new Christian, having come to her faith within a few years of our meeting. I fell into the old trap of false fronting in order to keep the girl. She was hot, I was lucky, and I didn't want to screw it up, so I hopped back into the world of Christianity after a brief albeit immensely relief0laden hiatus. We got married very quickly and moved away to start college together. Away from family, friends. It was just we, in a new town surrounded by a huge state university (The Florida State University to be precise). It was here that I was exposed to the history of my childhood religion in ways I was never afforded while actually involved in it. The world of music illuminates religion(s) in ways most people would never think of. To most, music is background sound to a worship service, but not to all. I won't lecture on music theory or history here, but suffice it to say, my studying music made me view religion (my religion) much differently and much less reverently as I had once purported to do. This being said, I still tried to be a Christian, not a good Christian, just a Christian, but it never stuck to me, like a religion ought to. We played children's church leaders for a little while, I tried coordinating the music at our Assembly of God church for a while, none of it worked well. I was (still am) a fairly defensive kind of guy. I don't like being affronted by anyone, especially if I think that person knows considerably less about a particular topic than me. Because of this, I didn't really fit with the whole church leader role, and so I gave it up. But truth be known, I was only playing at being such a thing, my heart was never in it, and I think it showed. I started thinking about philosophical issues during my time at FSU. Economics, Politics, but curiously enough not other religions. I wanted to hang on to my inherited conservatism and so I jumped on the impeach Clinton bandwagon, I later recanted. I even would have voted for W. in 2000 if I had been registered in Pennsylvania, which is where we moved to go to graduate school. But I found myself leaning ever so slightly to the left while in graduate school in Philadelphia. I also found myself, as did my wife, not caring about going to church anymore. We tried a few in Philly, but didn't like any of them so we just stopped trying after a few attempts. During Graduate school, I started reading non-stop. Mainly fiction. I plowed through every Stephen King novel he wrote and published and I could get from for $1.00 or less. I have quite the collection now. Grisham, Clancy, Crighton, Tolkien, etc... I read a lot, and of course I studied and practiced my horn too. I'm sure my adopted practice of reading played a part in my deconversion. there's nothing like reading the printed word to make a person think, about anything. Television requires nothing, movies nothing, watching a baseball game nothing. Of course no one is prohibited from thinking whilst participating in one of these activities, but there is no requirement implied. On the other hand, thinking is requisite while reading. Even though I was reading fictional stories my mind was beginning to formulate some ideas about myself. We lived in Philly for almost two years before moving away to Michigan for work. It was in Michigan that I finally gave up trying to be a Christian altogether.
I have mentioned how as a kid I was never really inclined to be all that devout. I did however glean a great deal of information about Christianity. The virgin birth, the walking on water, the resurrection, the money lenders in the temple, etc... I knew the New Testament stories. I had absorbed them over time, and they are still with me, but I certainly was no budding biblical scholar. I have read the entire bible once, completely. I have read a lot of the parts that are essential to any amateur Christian many times more. When I was trying to a Christian I hardly ever thought about the bible, but ironically, as an apostate, I have thought about the bible and it's stories a great deal more.
A few years ago, I decided to start writing down in a notepad what my real true thoughts about life and religion were. I began in 2002 with a great deal of personal despair. I had thoughts that god was either evil or non-existent. I was hurt over personal disappointments in life and I found the god I had tried to believe in to be the most readily available scapegoat. Fortunately this did not last long, I realized after a while the only way I could divert my life around these disappointments was to figure the route myself. My blame of god dissipated, but it also sowed real doubt in god's existence. I continued to write down my thoughts. Things like " the stories in the bible were written by men, not god; 2003", "creation did not happen, evolution did; 2003", and "god does not exist; 2004". It's important to note the dates. I had begun to write these thoughts of mine down years before I had ever heard of the "New Atheists". Not once in my life had I picked up a book criticizing religion at this point. I had however moved from Stephen king to Stephen hawking, and other similar books. probably one of the single most eye-opening books I've ever read, Hawking's " A brief history of time" was the nail in the coffin which had been buried years before. It taught me that nothing from religion is as cool as the universe itself. In 2007, after I had been effectively an atheist for a few years, I came across a you tube video of a guy named Sam Harris giving a lecture in Toronto on religious fallacies. I had never heard of the guy, but I was intrigued nonetheless. After watching the whole hour presentation I was floored. I had just heard someone else saying the exact things I had been thinking and privately writing down for nearly two years. I had no idea there were other people who thought as similarly as I did. I grew up thinking that atheists were as bad as Satan worshippers. Now being one, I knew better, but it was refreshing to know the network of freethinking individuals out in the world. I have read both of Harris' books, and I follow his blog. I have since read many other free thought books, some I agree with, and some I don't wholly. My abandonment of Christianity has led me to philosophy, and I have read a great deal of philosophy in the last few years. It also allowed me to explore cosmology and particle physics (on an amateur scale). I have many more widely-spread interests now than I ever did as a Christian- poser. My blog posts explain my position on the various tenets of Christianity so I won’t replay them here. Having written this, I'm glad. I've put it off for a while, but it was nice to go back in time for a while. I know I've never been a Christian, despite the efforts of my childhood church. Although I did try for a long time, for various reasons. I understand why people resort to religion. For some it comforts, for others it is a tether to hang onto in an otherwise tumultuous life, for still others it is a way to lift themselves over their fellow humans. But the thing is, none of those reasons matter, because in the end, religion is an idea. Ideas are only ideas until they are realized. There is no possible realization of religion until we die, and at that point it's too late to get anything out of it, which is why heaven and hell were invented. The ideas that religion itself stakes claims to, morality, ethics, and the like are certainly realizable, but the thing is, they aren't religion's ideas, they are mankind's. And at the risk of becoming a bit tautological (circular) religion is also an idea of mankind. Humanity has no need for religion, it has come up with it's own ideas about ethics and morality. Religion has usurped these ideas and gathered them under its umbrella, when really they are the same types of ideas as religion itself. if religion spawned only good in the world, then that would be great, but it does not. Nothing does. And how is that? Because everything we concern ourselves with, global warming, overpopulation, nationalism, religious freedom, everything has two sides, affirming and opposing. Religion is man-made because it has both sides of the coin. This is probably the most telling aspect of religion's origins, but there are others. I am not a Christian, anymore. Maybe one day, you won't be either.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On John 3:16

" For god so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believed on him should not perish, but have ever lasting life" John 3:16. Most famous verse in the bible. The hallmark of the christian contention that god is love, that the news of the gospel is "good news" and that we are sinners "saved" by grace. On the surface, this verse certainly seems like the definition of altruistic mercy, but just as in life, all that glitters is not gold. There are many,many things we encounter in life that seem to be one thing, but upon closer inspection and longevity of exposure actually turn out to be the opposite. Pitbulls seem to be great dogs until the day they kill a child for no apparent reason. When we sit in a chair,it seems as though our derry-air is in contact with the seat surface,when in reality, what we feel is the miniscule repulsion of trillions and trillions of atoms pushing us away from the their surface. It seems as though we snap opur fingers and we see, hear and decide to do this all at the same moment, but actually the decision to snapthe fingers happens before the act, and we see our fingers snap before we hear them snap. Our mind is a clever mechanism, capable of editing what is offered to us for observation into a false, but seemingly true narrative of observed events.
The christian's contention is that faith is what replaces evidence. The atheist's contention (which is coincidentally mine) is that any extraordinary claim, such as a god existing, must be supported by extraordinary evidence, faith is only circular. This verse states " that whosoever believes on him...." This seems to be a supportive statement of the faith side of things, yes? but let's look closer, shall we...

For god "SO" loved the world. The author could have said " For god loved the world". He did not. By inserting the word "SO" into the sentence he introduced an element of standard of comparison, which is a form of evidence. God didn't just simply love the world. There was a very high degree of affection that god had for the world, high enough to warrant the sacrifice of his son on its behalf (as is evidenced by the use of the word so), as opposed to a very low degree of affection for the world, which would not have warranted such a sacrifice. Using standards of comparison is what we animals do. We weigh the benefits and detriments associated with the options available to us, and use our deterministic brains to guide our behavioral choices. It is a completely natural (nonsupernatural) process. If god SO loved the world that he blah, blah, blah... then god himself was doing the same thing that we lowly animals do all the time. He weighed the benefits and detriments associated with his choices and chose accordingly. He decided to love the world not unconditionally mind you, but to such a degree that his love level would be enough to allow mankind a justified return to grace. Not very godly, not very godly at all. SO this first portion of the verse reveals that the most highly-touted verse in scripture pointing to the wonder of god and the greatness of his love for us, actually is evidence against god being god. Else, why would he need to "SO" love the world, in order to save us. It is easy to see however how a human author of such a story could think that such a wording of a verse would seem to be foolproof in it's evocational ability, but that would be because we humans are nothing but the smartest animals. It has been trial and error all along. I've yet to figure out why religious folks seem to be so averse to the trial and error process. How is it that religious folks need someone who is not going to screw up and learn something by doing so. And how do they come to think that such a scenario is even possible. What makes them think a god existing is even possible? I am getting off track.

We've examined the first part of the verse, so let's continue with the second part.
" that he gave his only begotten son".
Some christians I know argue that evidence does exist for belief in god. It is just evidence that we do not understand, we cannot understand, because god works in mysterious ways. I submit that this part of the verse contradicts such a statement. Infact all of the bible's memorable verses do exactly what this verse does; they frame the sentiment in a context we CAN understand, in this case, love for a child. If god's ways are so mysterious, then how is that the bible ended up being written in such a way that we can understand? Death we understand. Love we understand. Jealousy we understand. Retribution we understand. Justice we understand. Fairness and unfairness we understand. All of these affects are how the bible frames it's messages of life-assurance. This verse is no exception. The author offers as evidence of the level of god's love, the fact that he willingly sacrificed his son, on our behalf. This is a form of evidence, albeit one that is severely deficient in it's degree of verifiable truth. By including the word "So" in the first part of the verse, the author's hands were tied. They had to include some evidence to illustrate the level of love implied by the word "So". So doesn't this give credence to the christian's point? NO. They say simlutaneously, that god's plans are unknowable, because we as humans cannot understand god, but if god were intent on hiding his true nature from us, then why bother giving us a book full of feeble attempts to explain the heavenly nature of he and his minions in words and phrases we are overtly aware of, and completely capable of understanding; love, death, etc...?
Such a book, to those who read it a lot, is both credible evidence for the existence and wonder of god, and impossible for mankind to fully understand, as it is from the unknowable, unfathomable mind of god. This is self-reinforcing logic, and also bull-corn.

Christian : "I'm right, because I understand it, and you're wrong because you don't. The things I don't understand are still true, it's just that I'm not meant to understand them cause I'm not god, and the things I do understand, I can because god has chosen to reveal them to me".

God: " I'm right because I wrote the book, see it says so right here. You're wrong because you can't understand my plans because you are not me, see it says so right here." Bullox!

Enough of the second part, onto the third:
"That whosoever believed on him". This part is self-contradictory to the earlier part of the verse that said that god so loved the WORLD. If god's affection were for the entire world, then this part is unneccessary. Because this section of the verse is included, it makes clear that the verse was authored by a human being. It is riddles with elements of psychological bullying, jealousy, and low self-esteem. Only those who freely choose to believe the verse says the truth, will reap the benefits of exhibiting such faith, all others can literally go to hell. This is not love for the world at large, it is pedantic, juvenile, short-lived and ultimately disingenuous affection for the population that most resembles the author in mindset. Those of like mind will follow suit more easily. Independant thinkers represent more work for the clergy to bring into the fold and thus they quickly become not worth the effort. Infact, this verse reveals that god's affection surely does not extend to the entire world, and furthermore that he could never have intended to extend such affection out to the entire world, all because of the clause included, the catch in the deal... you have to believe.

And so we come to the final part of this awesome verse:
"Would not perish, but have everlasting life." Reward for good behavior. Another example of a context which we lowly humans can fully understand. We know what it is like to receive a reward for good behavior, and what better reward than to be able to live forever, pain-free? But, doesn't logic tell us that if something is the truth it must exist wholly independant of any type of influence. Math is math, It doesn't matter if it is cold outside, or if your mother-in-law is a bitch, 2+2 =4. Math is independant of human concerns. Belief in god however, is intricately tied up with humanity. Infact without humanity, god would be unnecessary. If god actually existed, then the belief we obviously are capable of harboring, should need no reward (such as ever lasting life) attached to it, precisely because of the inimitable truth of it, kinda like math. The truth of the concept would be the truth, and we would recognizeit as such even without the reward, kinda like math. As parents, we bribe our kids all the time, because they won't do what we ask of them otherwise. They are too busy playing to sit down at the table and eat, or wash their hands, or pick up their toys. So I can hear the christian saying right now, that we are like children to god, and he attached the reward of everlasting life so that we would be more inclined to do what he asked of us, knowing that what he was asking of us was in our best interest, even if we did not know it. Yes, that seems to be what we do with our children, but it is not. Picking up toys, eating dinner at the time we have designated, etc... are all things that are in our (parental) best interests, not the children's. A kid will eat when they are hungry, if they break a toy, they will quickly adopt a new one. parents are the ones who want things to be a certain way, and we try our best to instill these ways onto our children, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we acknowledge that in reality it is primarily for our benefit that we do such things. God, who doesn't exist, has rewards attached to belief in him, because, the authors and perpetuators of religion know that without such rewards, belief in god becomes a very hard sell indeed. This reveals the falsity of god's existence more than anything else. Because the author included the reward in the verse it reveals that this verse was authored by not an omnipotent god, but a person who was not very sharp in psychology, which makes sense if you consider when the words were probably written.
John 3:16 is not what it seems. It is not an appeal to discard evidence in lieu of belief, it is instead a wholehearted validation of the reliance we all have on evidence. In this case the evidence is not for god's existence but rather for the human authorship of this verse and indeed the entire bible. It shows that god had to wratchet up his level of affection for us to get us back home, it also shows that christians do indeed rely on evidence to "believe" in their premises; evidence like god giving his son, see that shows he loved us so much, he gave his son up....
It also shows that he didn't love the whole world, only the part that loved him back.
It also shows that god was not confident enough in the veracity of his omnipotence, so much that he felt it neccessary to sweeten the deal by attaching immortality to it.
Truth is truth, regardless of how many people believe it. The attempt to sway the populace into his corner, with the offer of immortality is all the evidence I'll ever need to know that god is a figment of the imagination, and nothing else.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Evangelicals are the worst people in the world

I know, I know, the title is terrible and mean-spirited, but they are horrible. I just finished watching the movie "Jesus Camp". A friend had recommended it to me a year or so ago, and I saw it tonight at the movie store and decided to rent it, thinking I would be laughing my ass off. For the first two scenes or so, I was. But very soon I realized the film was not a comedy, but rather a tragedy, or maybe a horror, I haven't decided yet.
It is a film, very well made by the way, about the evangelical demographic in America, and how the adults of this demographic are "teaching" their children to literally pray for America to be "revived" and to "return" to being a christian nation. I have never wanted to live in another country more than I do right now; however, I have also never wanted to offer resistance to lunacy more than I do right now either, and it would be hard to justify criticism of a certain populace within this country if I no longer were in this country.
I am so sad for the children in this movie. These kids have bought the evangelical bullshit message hook, line and sinker, and they think (as do their parents) that they "decided" on this position of their own accord, through the diligent efforts of both their parents and the pastor of a christian children's camp, to willfully indoctrinate them into thinking the things they now have no choice but to think. I mean the parents really believe they have raised their kids to "choose" to be evangelical christians. These are preteen kids, kids who joyfully and willingly preach to other kids, put on puppet shows about how the world is going to end just as soon as enough people pray for jesus to come back and think they have supernatural abilities such as jibber-jabbering literally in blatherous nonsense (which they call speaking in tongues, mind you, the sounds they make (as do their parents) are NOT long-deceased languages or even remnants of languages, they are just nonsense vocables), being able to prophecy (mind you, the prophecies these kids give are always given in the most vague and generalized manner, exactly like astrologers give their "readings", and never are they checked up on later to verify their accuracy) and "discerning of spirits", whatever the hell that means (the little girl who claimed she had this "gift" also clearly had no idea what the hell such a set of words were possibly referring to, you could see it on her face and hear it in her voice). The kids go to a camp in North Dakota for, I guess a week, and get preached to every night about sin and the punishment that accompanies it. The "pastor" lady even consciously picks a graphic of the word death (the wage of sin according to Romans 6:23) that has, what she described as, dripping blood falling off the letters of the word. I mean she actually typed the word, and then purposefully chose the bloody font for this particular slide in her powerpoint show she was preparing for the kids to see that evening. The kids were psychologically beaten up with the idea that if they had ever been or were currently being "phony" in their claims to "righteousness" that their hypocrisy was in need of being cleansed, literally. She had those kids come up and hold their hands out so that she could pour water from a water bottle over them to "wash" the kids' hands clean of the sin of hypocrisy. Needless to say, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to say it anyway, these kids were in tears at these sessions, and they clearly wanted to be. That is what has incensed me so much. These poor children, only a little older than my own son, were bawling over their sinfulness, how bad they were as people, and the adults were not only allowing this to take place, they were actually CAUSING it to take place. The had not only hoodwinked their kids into thinking they were terrible people, but they had, even worse, taught their kids that by recognizing their own horridness, they could then be "fixed" if only they prayed real hard for god to "forgive" them. And so, these kids weren't crying because they were afraid, they were crying because they were happy. They had a way out of going to hell. These were tears of unbridled relief and subsequent gratitude. I absolutely hate the practice of ridicule in education, and the evangelical contingent in this country is absolutely mired in it.
First: Get them to believe they are going to burn in hell for forever, just because they were born. Make them think that through no fault of their own, they have to suffer the worst tortures imaginable, eternally.
Second: Get them to accept this fate through constant reminders of their innate sinfulness, until they have no mind to analyze the validity of such an accusation.
Third: Tell them that they can escape this fate, if they do the religious thing i.e. Verbally "accept" jesus as their lord and saviour, and confess their sins to everyone who will listen, so that their humiliation will be complete, and they will have no ability to "choose" otherwise.
Fourth: Get them to go and tell everyone they know the exact things they themselves have been inexcusably exposed to, so that they become "warriors of christ".


And I'm not talking about teenagers here who struggle with the decisions brought on by peer pressure, decisions like "should I or should I not", or "I know better but all my friends are doing it so maybe I should to". Teens can analyze for themselves, even though most do not, they at least have the ability to. No, these are 9, 10, and 11 year olds. Kids who will adopt whatever behavior they are asked to adopt, if there is a clear reason to do so. Evangelical adults are bullying their children into corrosive and destructive mindlessness, and they think this is an acceptable child-rearing technique. Indoctrination is TERRIBLE!!!! it's inexcusable and should be a criminal offense. All it does is disengage the victim from the process of critical thinking. No 11 year old should think they are capable of preaching, to anyone, about anything. They are not experts at anything yet, except for howto be a kid. For crying out loud, 11 year olds can't drive a car, they can't vote, they can't drink alcoholic beverages, or smoke. They are disallowed these, for one simple reason, they are not cognitively developed enough to be able to understand all the ramifications and responsibilities of these behaviors. So how in the world do the evangelical parents of this country think that although their kids can't do all the above mentioned activities, they can and should be poisoning other equally impressionable kids with unsubstantiated nonsense like they do in this movie? I would like to shoot these parents, or better yet, go back in time and sterilize them.
They have these kids actually touching buildings and praying that jesus (even though he is rather inconveniently dead, and has been so for thousands of years, if he ever existed at all, which is questionable) will cause the planned parenthood clinic housed within to close down. These kids have been lit with a flame of ignorance and sympathy for the unborn by their parents. They can't possibly be educated enough on both sides of the debate to be able to say, as the children they are, that they are pro-life. They claim to be pro-life, because they have only seen the side of abortion that the churches show. The inflammatory side, the one with all the dead babies, and the little plastic fetuses that look just like a tiny baby, etc... they have not seen the other side, enough to weigh for themselves the data and decide on their own. Their parents think certain things, and then choose to indoctrinate their kids in a similar vein.
This movie touched on a lot of subjects of which I am well aware, having grown up in an evangelical christian home. Creationism vs evolution, abortion, national christianity, the end times, the need for constant repentance and the ultimate need for salvation. All of these are topics which have driven me away from the ridiculousness of christianity. You could see the fear in these kids eyes, and felt the resonation of memory, having been bombarded on a bi-weekly basis with these toxins for nigh on twelve of the most impressionable years of my life. And that is the basis for the whole sham, as I have written about in some of my earlier blogs. FEAR. There is an assumption that there is a continuation of our life in some capacity after we die, and that capacity is directly determined by our choices and activities while we are alive now. This assumption comes from the fact that we feel like we are conscious beings, and that our consciousness is a manifestation of an invisible greater world of spirituality, one which we cannot see. Based on this assumption of spirituality, christians assign a place of good or ill to our post-life selves. It is this heaven and hell that outlines the real basis for the fundamentals of the christian faith. Christians don't fear hell,because they've chosen the right path. They also "know" that non-christians have everything to fear because they have not chosen the right path. They have constructed this farcical fantasy world, which is wholly dependant on fear, and in doing so have ensured that those who are exposed to it have to choose one way or the other. It is all based on the false assumption that we go somewhere after our deaths. Once that assumed foundation is forged, the good vs evil scenario is as valid a scenario as any other, and it is the one christians hang their hat on. But the foundation is false, and consequently the structures built upon it, such as the christian faith, are also. Even for those religions or spiritual people out there that are not of the christian faith, the fundamental assumption that we are transcendent of our corporeal selves, is not true. How do I know, because I am not a child, and I no longer have to fear the boogeyman of death. I and my wife have taught our son that when living things, like people die, they turn back into dirt, over time. He is four and thinks that is really cool. When he is older, more capable of abstract thought, he will inevitably come to us with the familiar questions of what happens to "us" when we die. Thankfully, I know our answers will remain unchanged. We are not filling him with bullshit, and I am so glad that I was able to jettison all the bullshit I injested in my youth. But I still feel like vomiting after having watched that putrid filth tonight.