Monday, July 28, 2008

Beyond the grave, Part 3

I didn't catch this one earlier because it wasn't given as an email response. He actually posted it on his blog. Other than being a theist, he seems like a reasonably bright young man. Feel free to click on the link and read the whole post. But, again, he validates my position that fear of death is, if not the primary factor in supernatural belief, certainly one of the main factors. Chip Crush writes:

The question again is, "What is the single greatest thing that you think your faith gives you now, or will give you in the future?"

It's a simple answer. The single greatest thing that I think my faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has given me in the past, gives me now, and will give me in the future, is eternal life. I have eternal life, and will have eternal life by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

I would like to point out that Chip put the emphasis into the previous paragraph. It’s clear that he gives some validity to my point and he fears nature. He fears it to the point of rejecting it in favor of the supernatural. He goes on to say:

But a person is not their body. A person is more than mere flesh and blood. We continue to exist after the first death. This death is merely a door to a different kind of life. We'll be in paradise or hades (sheol) after walking through this door of the first death.

Science has repeatedly tested the notion of the self being more than the body. Every scientific study has produced evidence that shows they are one and the same. This does not (as always in science) disprove a “soul”. It only says two things.

1. Thousands of tests, experiments, studies have revealed no evidence of a soul.
2. Everything we know about Homo sapiens can be understood in terms of a unitary self that is in no way divided.

Chip concludes by going back to his greatest fear, which he alleviates by his being able to constantly refer to life ever-lasting, every time he has the opportunity to try to convince another. Surely with every success, he becomes more certain that he is right. How else could he have convinced someone?

So there you have it, John: a simple answer to a good question. My faith gives me eternal life. Would you like to have eternal life? Come to Jesus, and live forever.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Morality – Not from gods or from genes

You wouldn’t be surprised that I don’t see a supernatural basis for morality. You might be slightly more interested in a claim that our moral intuitions aren’t innate either. The key word is “innate”. I do indeed think that genetics plays a roll, as I believe they do in absolutely everything. However, the extreme differences we see in morality can only be explained in cultural terms, meaning that we have an ongoing battle to develop the best possible moral systems – and that some moralities are better than others.

You won’t be surprised at all that this video feeds directly into my view that cultural relativism is a horrible idea. Unfortunately, it’s an idea that comes from the part of the political spectrum that I most associate myself with – the left. Hopefully the difference between those of us on the left and those on the right is that we can be self-critical and self-improving.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More from beyond the grave

My last post received some criticism about context. I hope this shows the fullness of fear of death that I have proposed as perhaps the single most important driving factor towards theistic, supernatural answers.

First, here's a knee-slapper of an answer from "Cindy". You'd think I was asking about her first sexual experience or what are the last four of her social security number! I thought the question was rather straight-forward and, one would think, non-threatening to a theist. Unless she senses the absurdity of the answers she would provide.

"I got your message on my blog Supernatural Christian. Before I answer, would you tell me what it is you are doing. I get strange request now and then and some are inappropriate or way out there. If your purpose is genuine, then I may post your request on my blog and maybe you will get more answers to your question. I have a lot of readers, but few saying anything. But, you might get what you are asking for.

Then "Dave" starts out, on a rather lengthy response:

"Hello, John. Where to start? From early childhood, I sensed there is a mystery about life and all its "whys" that I wanted to explore. I think this is present in almost everybody, but usually gets stifled with the cares of life. In time, I did get saved, but was so naive that it was merely a religion I believed and didn't really know why, beyond fire insurance from hell. Much time went by before I had no choice but to acknowledge God, and find that there is a relationship we can have with Him. One that is as close as is possible, within. (Before you read further, know that usually God's voice comes as a thought to us, and our mind forms it into words.)"

He goes on to tell me that he found out that while the "fire insurance" is important, it's really all about a personal relationship with Jesus.

Finally, there was this from "Aaron". I think it sums up the thinking of most Christians and, with different wording and invisible friends, people of all religions.

"I would say the single greatest thing my faith gives me now is the assurance that I have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. But let me explain what all this means. It means my sins have been forgiven, that I have been adopted as a child of God, that the threat of God's wrath that loomed over me and would have sent me to Hell forever has been removed because Christ endured it in my place. It means that I stand to inherit a new creation with Christ, which means that I have hope for life beyond death, that is, the life of resurrection, just as Christ was raised from the dead."

(All emphasis in bold is mine, and not the authors).

Finally, let me ask a question of all readers, religious or secular - what's with the burial customs of nearly all societies? Personally, I want to be cremated with no urn or special place for the ashes. Why do we have tombs and burial plots with fancy stones, crosses, families "resting" together, biblical quotations engraved, etc? What is it that most people think they are getting from the wasteful and costly burials described? Do you think the predominance of such burial is indicative of a concern with the "hereafter"?

I'll give my answer. I think it most definitely is. In fact, there is no belief involved here - it's self-evident. People want to be buried near their loved ones because they think they will have contact with them after death. They inscribe their grave stones with religious words to help convince their god they are worthy to enter paradise. They have refused to accept that the closest thing they will ever have to paradise is the life they are living right now.

If my theory about death is incorrect, how to explain the societal customs for handling the dead? I'm sure some will claim that it all has to do with the still living and bereaved relatives and loved ones. But that still leaves the question - what is it about these ceremonies and resting places that comforts them?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

40,000 men and women everyday

That was in 1976. It’s probably more like 80,000 now.

Death is the greatest equalizer ever. It’s the thing that Bill Gates and a starving child in Zimbabwe have in common. Their life-styles bear no resemblance, but they will both die and there is nothing that Gates’ fortune can do to prevent it. The greatest minds and the best science have not made a dent in this particular “problem”. Despite endless optimism, there is no impending Singularity.

We all “fear the Reaper”. Some of us have made an uneasy peace with the sure and certain knowledge of our finite existence. Others, most people, have not and they only have one answer, albeit a piss-poor one. They escape dealing with it through the use of the supernatural. Some think Jesus, Allah or Yahweh will take them to live eternally in heaven. Others think their soul will experience reincarnation. Still others have various other gods or spirits that they plan on living with as soon as this life is over. Unfortunately, in almost every case, there is a minimizing of this life in favor of the mystical next.

It’s my strong, yet unconfirmed hypothesis that fear of death is the single strongest impetus for association with a religious group or philosophy. In an attempt to get some small, unscientific indication that I am right, I contacted 30 Christian bloggers and asked them the following:

The question is this: thinking about your religious belief and its importance to you, what is the SINGLE greatest thing that you think your faith gives you now or will give you in the future? When thinking about it, please consider that you are trying to convince another human being that your faith is the one they should choose and you can only make one single argument for accepting it.

Unsurprisingly, no one answered by saying something along the lines of “I was scared of my family dying and never seeing them again and now I am relieved in knowing we get to live together in eternity”. Frankly, I’ve known a lot of religious people and have never had one express it quite like that. Very few people like to admit to their fears. And what greater fear could there be than the ultimate boogeyman – The Grim Reaper? Also, Christians and other believers tend to be very upbeat about their beliefs. So when asking such a question, it would be unusual to receive a negative as an answer to “what is the greatest thing about your beliefs”?

So we have to read between the lines a bit, and here I think the answers are probably extremely revealing. Before we get to the responses I received, let’s go on a bit of a digressive tangent.

As stated, 30 bloggers were contacted. I asked them to email their answers to me. Since I didn’t want to have to deal with a shitload of follow-up "Jesus talk" I gave them one of my back-up email addresses that I use for just such an occasion. I received a total of 8 responses and those were all within 10 hours of placing the requests. So more might be on the way and if they are enlightening, I’ll add the information in the form of an update at the end of this post. I figured as long as I was going to post at 30 Christian blogs I might as well use the opportunity to see how many of them employed the famous “moderation” option. Many of us have noted how frequently Christian blogs choose to censor the comments. It is very unusual to go to any atheist or free-thinking blog and find the moderation turned on. What the fuck; we aren’t afraid of anything that can be said in disagreement. To the contrary, we usually relish the opportunity to fine-tune our own thought processes on various issues. There is no better way to do so than by dealing with a contrarian viewpoint. 17 of 30 Christian blogs had moderation. There were many other blogs that I was unable to post at because they either required registration or because they didn’t permit anonymous comments. (Note: I used the name John Hoopman without linking to a URL. I did this simply to achieve higher compliance and serious answers on what I was looking for. Had I used my online identity and URL they would have realized they were dealing with a committed atheist).

Here are the key parts of each of the 8 answers. I think, if you are reading between the lines like I am, you’ll agree that fear of the Grim Reaper plays a big part in the beliefs of most of those who replied.

Knowledge of a God that is worthy to be God… Because He Lives… Everything that I believe is founded in the hope of a better life, future, and a world that will someday no longer be subjected to evil… we will have eternal life with Him… Faith will carry me through the storm when there is no light… Being a Christian gives me hope for the future and acceptance when situations or circumstances happen that I do not like, because I realize it is beyond my control… by trusting in Him we may know that we have (present tense) eternal life… The answer of your question is this: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

I’m neither suggesting that there are no other reasons that people follow their superstitions or that this small, anecdotal group verifies my point. I’ll leave that to the experts. I’d love to see some controlled study that looks into peoples deepest motivations for believing in mystical answers. I firmly think that the fear of death will rate right up at the top of the list.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Movies for atheists - #2

If you have started watching the new HBO mini-series, Generation Kill, you might need this movie as your mid-week fix while awaiting the next episode. It fits in nicely with the theme of GK.

While Generation Kill is shot documentary-style, the movie I’m going to recommend is, in fact, a documentary. It’s called Operation Homecoming and was originally shown on PBS (now available on video). The Netflix synopsis says:

Veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan recount their war experiences in this Oscar-nominated documentary, which collects the writings of soldiers and their families to give a deeply personal view of American troops' involvement in these conflicts. Various visual strategies complement the interviews and readings by such noted actors as Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges, Blair Underwood, Aaron Eckhart and writers Anthony Swofford, James Salter and Tobias Wolff.

It is a series of vignettes based on essays written by the soldiers and marines involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These men and women look unflinchingly at what they accomplished, where they fell short, and how war has changed their lives – forever. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall a single soldier invoking god in any way or as having any influence on their actions or feelings afterwards. It was a powerful and very human experience for me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Instead of patriotism

Or nationalism...

I suggest double-clicking on the video, going to the YouTube page and then clicking "watch in high quality", below and to the right side of the video.

Enjoy. I'll lighten up if you will.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

America the pitiful; stupid and proud

GOD BLESS AMERICA! God loves America! God is on our side. Our country was founded as a safe haven for God’s people. Everything we do, we do to the greater glory of God.

Um… Yeah, except there is no god.

Of the great Western-style Democracies, ours is populated by the most ignorant and undeservedly arrogant people. Let’s drop the whole religious thing for a few minutes. It adds immeasurably to the case for American idiocy, and clearly we are by far the most religious of the world’s democratic nations. No small coincidence, one can be sure. Let’s see – reason… or superstition? Reason or superstition? Which is the more noble path for Homo sapiens (wise man) to follow? I just can’t make up my mind – being an American. But, again, let’s leave it alone. No amount of rational explanation could ever break through the closely guarded minds of believers in the supernatural. After all, they didn’t get to that point by the use of reason (even though the tool was readily available) so why would they let reasoned discourse sway them now? Oh, that it were so easy to make a bright person out of a moron.

Let’s just use this current election cycle as a way of examining the intelligence of Americans. There will be absolutely no attempt here to offer either of the major candidates as the more logical choice of an intelligent citizenry, nor any of the possible alternatives, such as voting 3rd party or starting a revolution. Let’s just look at what the American people find to be fascinating and insightful pieces of information to be narrowly picked over in an effort to come to an unbiased decision on who would be the best person to take charge after this same electorate in their infinite and seemingly inexhaustible wisdom, elected George W. Bush to serve, not one, but two terms as its leader.

Here are 25 “issues” that have come up during the primaries and the early part of the general campaign. One looks at these and rubs hands in glee with the knowledge that the next 3 months can only figure to bring many more crucial “issues” for the brain-dead American populace to mull before making its final decision, informed by the wisdom of their God. Oh. Sorry. I wasn’t going to bother with that. It’s just too annoying that people in this country actually take pride in their god-given “special” status, when it is clear that we are special only in the same sense as “special” education.

1. Is Obama a Muslim? Who the fuck cares? Read the Constitution lately?

2. Why isn’t Obama patriotic enough to wear a flag pin on his coat? Who the fuck cares?

3 Obama doesn’t say the Pledge. Bullshit.

4. Obama went to a madrassa as a child. Bullshit. And who the fuck would care if he did?

5. Obama went to Kenya and dressed in native garb. Done by politicians all the time. Who the fuck cares?

6. Jeremiah Wright said bad things about America. Not really. He said some things that show the dark side of America. But what does that have to do with Obama?

7. Hillary told a lie about her experiences in Bosnia. All politicians lie all of the time. It's not exactly lying about WMD and the Sadaam/Osama buddy connection.

8. Hillary’s 3 AM campaign ad. Brilliant ad. It had America discussing 3 AM phone calls for weeks. Want to bet whether it comes up again before the election?

9. McCain was attacked for being a prisoner of war. Bullshit. General Clark said it wasn’t a qualification for president. But who the fuck cares if he was attacked?

10. McCain divorced his first wife and married a young hottie. OK, so not everything done by Americans is dumb. Who the fuck cares about his personal life?

11. McCain is too old. He can either do the job or he can’t. None of us know if we will be here tomorrow. We’d be better with an 80 year old with moderate skills than “W”.

12. Cindy McCain was a drug addict. Of course she was. Maybe stupidity makes us all need a little something to get by.

13. Look at the percentages of whites voting for Hillary. Blacks make up 10% of the population and Obama won the Democratic primary. Statistics deceive.

14. McCain called his wife a cunt. She probably is. Who the fuck cares what language people use in their private lives?

15. Michelle Obama said this was the first time she’s been really proud of her country. Who the fuck cares? I’m happy for her that she found something.

16. A priest who supports Obama ridiculed Hillary. If dumbass America only learns one thing from this election it should be to stop paying attention to the clergy.

17. Parsley and Hagee both said awful things. Who the fuck cares? What did we expect from clergymen? What the fuck does it have to do with McCain?

18. Obama said people cling to guns and bibles. Yeah, no shit – they do. What else would a country of fools do?

19. McCain said we might be in Iraq 100 years. And we will, even if Obama gets elected because we are a country of dumbass people and we want our oil.

20. McCain said “Al Qaeda” when he meant “extremists”. Is that anything like saying evangelical when you meant fundamentalist? Who the fuck cares?

21. McCain sang, “Bomb Iran” to the tune of a Beach Boys song. It was funny! Now, if that’s a policy position, it’s not so funny.

22. The New Yorker ran an awful cover of the Obamas. Bullshit. It was funny! But the New Yorker should have known that satire doesn’t work on idiots.

23. Obama does a terrorist fist jab. I know where I’d like to jab my fist; on about 150 million American retards.

24. Obama disrespected Hillary by dusting off his shoulders. OK. Is everyone over the intense hurt of that one now? Or shall we talk about it for another week of the campaign?

25. If Obama is elected, he won’t take the Oath of Office on the Bible. One could only wish this were true. Alas, Bullshit.

Just think of how many hours of broadcast, thousands of print articles, and endless Internet discussions and blog posts have been devoted to these “issues”. Do a mental comparison of the 25 "issues" with real ones like climate change, the environment, fossil fuel dependency, repairing the damage done to our Constitution by the current administration, the myriad of economic problems here and abroad, healthcare, respect for science, dealing with terrorism without resorting to unnecessary wars against sovereign nations that have not attacked us. It’s clear that these are the issues that should occupy 90% of the discussion to determine who is best qualified to lead the United States, and yet it’s the other way around.

None of this is to say that America is any dumber than the average nation in the world. We probably aren’t. But to have unwarranted pride that this country is somehow better than other places is ludicrous. We are certainly no more intelligent than the average citizen of the world, and less rational than other modern democracies. Patriotism itself is for idiots. And there are no more patriotic people anywhere than right here in the United States of Airheads.

Hat tip to The Exterminator for creative consultation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shocking that more people don't see it (or maybe not)

Naomi Klein was the highest ranked female on a recent Internet poll for top public intellectuals. Not a single woman was in the top 10. She was 11th.

I found it interesting that Klein had some of the following analyses for the Kerry failure in 2004. Obama has been accepting some really bad advice. I guess he prefers Democratic Party hacks to rational thinkers. These statements were made in an interview on Alternet two months after the election.

The Democrats didn't fully understand that the success of Karl Rove's party is really a success in branding. Identity branding is something that the corporate world has understood for some time now. They're not selling a product; they're selling a desired identity, an aspirational identity of the people who consume their product. Nike understands that, Apple understands that, and so do all the successful brands. Karl Rove understands that too.

When you have genuine conviction standing next to extremely expert and successful marketing, it exposes the latter as marketing. Whereas when you have bad marketing next to expert marketing, it actually makes the other person look good.

Another part of the failure has to do with the way you answer the language of faith. You don't answer the language of faith with the language of more effective bureaucracy, which is the image that John Kerry's campaign presented: more effective administrators, more effective bureaucrats of war. You have to answer the language of faith with the language of morality.

[My emphasis]

All of this led me to explore Klein’s most recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I think I’m going to have to read it. Check out the short video, in which Klein defines “the shock doctrine”.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cool Hand Luke Vs. Johnny Evo

You may have heard my version. Here's a much weaker one. I'm sure you'll agree. If not, I may have to post to YouTube and show y'all how it's sung.

This post inspired by religious music here and here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Proud to be an American?

That's nice. Wave that fucking flag. I don't want to impeach Bush and Cheney. That's way too good for them.

UPDATE: I have to add this my post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What is Obama THINKING?

Of course Obama wants desperately to be President. He’s closer to the office than any non-white has ever been. He’s so close, he can feel the reins of power already. They are intoxicating, I’m sure. He’s secured the nomination, has been cited as being ahead of McCain in double digits in at least 2 prominent polls, and just needs to bring it down the home stretch.

So when he takes all that he has done which has gotten him to this point and turns his back on it, what is he thinking? That he will get Joe Mildly Conservative to take a second look at him and go, “oh, he’s willing to reverse himself on a passionately held position, piss on Cheney’s piss on the Constitution, and do what it takes to torture and kill them dirty terrorists, so I think I’ll switch from Johnny Mac to him. Hell, I always did like that mocha look”.

Yeah. I can see him working his magic in the middle. Now there’s a winning strategy for you. I’m sure everyone on the left (who put him where he is today) will take it. Like they take everything. They’ll still run out and vote for him.

Sure they will.

Read about it here

Then, there's this. And this. And this. And those were easily found.

Not that I'm really complaining. Better to know the man as soon as possible and we now know him. I honestly just wonder - does he THINK this is the best strategy to win, or is there something else going on? Is this the fee that has to be paid to Corporation America in order to stand at the top and pretend you are calling the peoples' shots?

Fuck the bullshit.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Time to get angry?

My friend SI sent an email linking this article from The Secular Coalition for America. It addresses the issue of the recent poll on religion in America, which found that a full 21% of self-defined “atheists” believe in a god or a universal spirit. In the SCA article, they bring out an interesting point that I must have missed the first time that I read about the polling data:

“Conversely, among respondents who say they are affiliated with a religious tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, etc.), a surprising number said they actually do not believe in a god or universal spirit.”

On first examination, this would just seem more Homo sapiens silliness. But I can understand why “theists” may actually be non-believers. Given this:

"Americans repeatedly tell pollsters that an atheist is the last person they'd want their children to marry, the last person they'd vote for as President. This prejudice also appears in the widespread impression that atheists lack ethics and values."

There must be millions of people who simply find it a whole lot easier to live their lives without being hated. "Me? I'm an a... a... episcopalian! Yeah. That's what I am. Episcopalian. Can I play now"?

I think this one point about American views on atheism (and I definitely trust the polling data on this point) is what I focus on much more than the fact that 21% of atheists really aren't, and many self-identified religionists are actually atheists.

Fuck, if it is true, why not be as obnoxious, loud, in-your-face as possible? Obviously we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere by playing by societal rules of nicety. We’ve politely deferred to religion for the entire 200 years that it has been relatively safe to say one simply doesn’t believe. I think our ranks have swelled somewhat during that period of time, but the respect we get from society is still all but non-existent.

I suppose we might as well be as rude and disrespectful of their precious beliefs as they already claim we are being. Hell, speaking for myself, they haven’t seen anything yet. I’m extremely understanding of the human condition; which leads many towards supernatural explanations – understanding, but vaguely contemptuous. I rarely show it to them (other than those who make the mistake of attacking atheism directly).

I’ve been pondering this very subject for the past couple of weeks and wrote about it here. All I can say about this SCA information is that it gives more credibility to the notion of being loud, proud and openly dismissive of religion.

Friday, July 04, 2008

President reaches out to the victims

I'm starting to see him in a slightly different light. You can't say he doesn't have a heart. I just hope this wasn't some shameless Independence Day ruse to make us think he cares.

Be a "Paine" in their ass

Or, what Independence Day should really mean.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Independence Day

Frankly, I’m so tired of the idiocy that surrounds us in this nation and world, that I’m not really much inclined to celebrate our Independence. I won’t go into a George Bush rant again. What’s the point? Instead, I’ll just share two posts from fellow bloggers which are well worth checking out and thinking about on the 4th of July.

From The Exterminator, at No More Hornets, take a fun little quiz about the Declaration of Independence. You might not learn anything you didn’t know, but I found it refreshing to actually remember that this was the way it was.

Brendan at bjkeefe provides you with a great link that you should at least take a peek at. It will certainly give some context to my own ennui with America in particular, and the world in general.

Enjoy the holiday. I’ll probably see you around because I’m not doing a fucking thing. Well, I'll probably be doing this.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Atheist Movie Recommendations (1)

You say you are a freethinking secularist who just hates some of the movies you rent because they end up representing some of the trash that you so much hate in life? Maybe I can help you out.

I’m not much of a review writer and I probably won’t concentrate highly on the movie commentary. What I’ll try to do instead is tell you about a movie that I found appealing due to a combination of it’s quality and it’s message, and that it accomplished it without expecting you to “dip in to the woo” (as a friend has put it) or in crediting religion for the successes of the protagonists.

So these won’t be so much movies “about” atheism as they are movies that simply represent the spirit of reality. Don’t get me wrong, if I happen on any great movies that are about atheism, I’ll be happy to recommend them.

I’ll warn you that if you don’t like foreign films, you might as well click on the next blog at this time. My first recommendation is a Brazilian movie and many of the better movies I see are foreign films. American movie making (indies aside) tend to try mass market appeal, with gratuitous sex, violence, stupidity, improbability and woo galore. Naturally, this is a generalization, and I have some good American films to offer as well.

Central Station (1998)

(Central do Brasil)

Sub-titles in English

Netflix Synopsis

Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), who writes letters for illiterate people at Rio de Janeiro's central railroad station, feels compelled to help 9-year-old Josué (Vinicius De Oliveira) locate his estranged father after the child's mother dies in a car accident. As Dora and the boy bond during their journey to Brazil's remote Northeast region, the interplay between them is delightful to watch.

From E.M.

Two people, at opposite ends of life, unite and find new meaning and purpose. As the tale of their desperation moves forward, it would be easy for them to fall victim to the religiosity that they are surrounded by in the poor and ignorant Brazilian countryside. It would have been a convenient route of escape from their immense problems. Many people “come to Christ” at their moment of deepest despair. Dora and Josue, all odds against them, never for a moment turn to superstition to “solve” their problems.


Please remember to come back later and comment, if you decide to watch this movie or any of the others I'll be recommending. After I have a few, I'll put an Atheist Movie link up on the sidebar.