Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not Collecting Stamps

Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

My knee-jerk reaction to a quote like that is to grab it and cherish it for awhile, giddily anticipating the day a can somehow sling it out again feeling very cocky and smart. How nice to have a shiny quip that can tidily sum up something complex for the attention-span impaired. But like most glib little sayings, it has tarnished really fast on me.

For many people, that statement is true. They live their lives and rarely thinking about religion. It seems like one of those things that happen to other people and they can, for the most part, ignore it.

For me, Atheism is a religion like not drinking is to a member of AA. That’s probably a badly worded parallel, but I hope I’m getting the idea across. I think about religion and atheism all the time. I’ve been trying to remove phrases like, "Thank god", "Oh my god", and "I swear to god" from my vocabulary. I’ve become acutely aware of the implicit acceptance of most people that most other “good” people believe in a god just like they do.

Every time there’s an interview with a person who’s either just achieved their goal or gone through a horrible event, I wait to see whether or not they’re going to credit their god for either getting them through it or allowing it to happen. I heard on NPR this morning that the headline in one Bulgarian newspaper, regarding the release of the medics from Libya, was, “There is a God.” It annoyed me.

I have a friend who refuses to accept that I’m an atheist. She tells people that I’ve become agnostic and looks at it like a fad I’m going through; eventually I’ll come around to being a believer again.

Hemet, The Friendly Atheist, had a post about "What should the focus be?" Creating new atheists or getting those who are already atheists to speak out as such?

Which led to me thinking how can I speak out as an atheist without being some un-born again evangelizer. I didn’t think there was a symbol for atheists, seeing how we’re not a religion. Then another commenter on blog pointed out that Arlington Cemetery has a recognized symbol for atheists: authorized emblems

I like the idea of a passive, non-confrontational symbol for my non-belief. And I do think there is more to being an atheist than just an absence of belief in the supernatural. While the American Heritage Dictionary defines religion as:
Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe
an alternate definition is also listed:
A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

You can’t pursue not collecting stamps with zeal or conscientious devotion. You wouldn’t want to blog about it either.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Potter-flu (Spoiler free - Really)

I wonder how many people today are out with the "Potter-flu". Unfortunately I'm not one of them and though I tried really hard yesterday to read it all, I've only managed to get to page 519.

I've heard from several people, "You know {spoiler}?" Well assuming I somehow managed not to hear {spoiler} in the past few days, why do some people feel the need to then go ahead and SPOIL it for me? I, and millions of others, have invested several years of our lives in these characters. I'd like to get through the last book blissfully unaware of any plot developments until I actually read them. Now I have to try and pretend I don't know, or that there's the possibility that {spoiler} doesn't happen, so I can still be "surprised" if it does.

So if you know a spoiler, don't tell anyone. It doesn't make you appear clever. You don't get do put up a flag. I'm never going to think, "You know I would have read all 700 some pages not knowing {spoiler} until I got to it, but thankfully you told me beforehand and I was fully prepared. You're my hero."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sentient Creature Products

Every morning I go through the same ritual. I take a shower and wash, paying particular attention to the stinky bits. Dry off. Add additional deodorants to the stinky bits. Brush and gargle the food ingestion bit. Put makeup on the presentation identity bit. Make sure nothing is hanging out of the primary oxygen intake bit. Etcetera. Which made me ponder the Creationist argument; "All this is so complicated, it must have a designer."

Nightline had a Creation vs. Evolution debate awhile ago with Kurt Cameron and Ray Comfort on the Xtian side and the Blasphemy Challenge on the other. One piece of "evidence" the Xtian side used, I don’t remember if it was Cameron or Comfort, was a painting. Perhaps it was the Mona Lisa. Their argument was that if you looked at something created, like a painting, you knew there had to be a painter, or creator, behind it.

I’d like to run with this concept for awhile.

First off, a painting like the Mona Lisa doesn’t just happen. Leonardo da Vinci, brilliant as he was, wasn’t born one day and creating the Mona Lisa the next. He learned his skills as an apprentice of another artist, Verrocchio, who learned some of his skills from Donatello, who received some of his training from Lorenzo Ghiberti. Leonardo learned anatomy, performed dissections, observed and produced studies, was exposed to technical skills along with the various artistic skills from other artists. His work would have started raw and progressed as his skills grew. In other words, his work, the Mona Lisa, was his later contribution in the evolution of his own skills and to the evolution of art as a whole. It was not the first painting ever produced by anyone.

Second, a painting doesn’t do anything. I am a complex system, made up of thousands of other, smaller complex systems. Looking around at complex systems that we know for a fact have been created, were created by teams of people. They were also advancements of other simpler complex systems. Bill Gates didn’t just wave his hands and create Windows Vista. He’s got hundreds of developers and engineers that have been working for years, advancing technology from simpler operating systems. Even the ancestor of operating systems, older than DOS, the CP/M (Control Program/Monitor), was composed of other systems (the console command processor or CCP, basic disk operating system or BDOS, and basic input/output system or BIOS.)

Third, and last, I’d like to point out that even if I and my operating system were the result of designers, there is no celestial patent office around to prove who gets the credit. It might be Yahweh and Son, Allah Inc., Xenu & Co., or even Taiowa. Just because a company is popular and currently dominates the market share, doesn’t mean they created the product. It could be they bought it from Sentient Creature Products for $50,000.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Weather Underground

The Weathermen were a militant group of white college student anti-war activists who had the motto “Bring the War Home”. They sympathized with the Black Panther party and other liberation movements going on around the world. As they saw it, the world was on the brink of revolution and either you were a member of the revolution fighting oppression or you were an oppressor. Peaceful protests and sit-ins were doing nothing to end the Vietnam war or other crimes being perpetrated by the U.S. Government. When their movement changed from protest and activism to violence and terrorism, they initially sought to target and kill placid whites to wake them up. However a miswired bomb killed three of their group and the remaining members decided that the violence against civilians was the wrong tact to take. Of the twenty something bombings the group carried out, the only deaths were those three.

I was struck by the documentary, The Weather Underground, that the world described sounded very much like the world that we’re living in today. I felt sympathy for their frustration in being unable to bring about change in a world where the US was involved in the murder of civilians and the destruction of Civil Liberties. The interviews with the now much older and wiser members of the Weather Underground showed people who felt passionate about injustice yet conflicted, guilty, yet still defensive about the paths they took. As one member put it, at the time he was frustrated about what to do with all his feelings about the war and the atrocities being perpetrated and is still frustrated to this day. They didn’t and don’t know what the right answer should be.

They show us a window into how easily one can slip from being one of the good guys to one of the bad. These were white, privileged, college educated, idealistic kids who were two steps away from becoming Al-Qaeda-esque terrorists. They weren’t blowing things up because God or Allah told them to. Their frustration wasn’t motivated by poverty. They saw themselves as revolutionaries fighting for just causes. Some would say they were terrorists because they went beyond civil disobedience to outright violence. One of the members later joined another group that ended up killing police officers during a Brinks robbery gone bad and is now serving a life sentence in jail. While he feels culpable for the deaths of the officers, he also feels he’s a political prisoner who shouldn’t be in jail.

If we look at our history though, weren’t we the terrorists at one time? Weren’t we the insurrectionists? I don’t know what the right answer is about the current conflicts going on in the world, but I do know we’re stuck in the middle of the wrong one.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cosmic Forgetfulness

New Scientist talks about cosmic forgetfulness and the reincarnation of the universe.

The model showed that most, but not all, of the information about what came before the big bang gets irretrievably lost through the big bang transition. And in a perpetual cycle of big bangs and crunches, this information loss means no two universes are ever the same. Bojowald calls this "cosmic forgetfulness".

Universe mostly forgets its past during cosmic rebirth

Carl Sagan and Voyager 1 showed us that our planet is no more than "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam". Now we can see that the Universe itself could be possibly be something that is endlessly destroyed and recreated without ever being the same.

Wow. How can a little deity ever compete with that?

No longer looking forward to an afterlife, I’ve often contemplated the finality of death and oblivion, while retaining some hope that something of me continues on. I don’t remember anything before my birth, but then I don’t remember many moments of my life. Which leads me to the philosophical question “What makes me, ME?” This body of cells is completely different that the one that existed years ago. My thoughts, my feelings, my perceptions, my humor, and my passions are all different from age to age. A brain injury could remove all my personality leaving me an entirely different person or not a person at all.

Sometimes, I morn the loss of my little brother. My brother is still alive. He’s now 26 years old. But he’s not that little boy that I loved and doted on when I was 15 and he was 3. To me, they’re not the same person at all, and I miss him. Then again I’m not the same person I was at 15 either.

Religion would say that we have souls, but science hasn’t found them yet. Even if I did have something that could be called a soul, that wouldn’t mean current self, my current personality, would continue to exist. If it did, it would mean I didn’t grow any more and without growth you can’t have life can you?

I guess I’m just going to have to wait for my death to find out.

Another Atheist Blog

I used to beg God to exist. Now I’m glad he doesn’t.

I’m an Atheist and this is going to be an Atheist blog. There are an ever growing number of Atheist blogs on the internet. Most, I’m sure, have been and will continue to be better than anything that occurs here. I’m just adding my voice to the multitude in hopes that we’ll eventually drown out the superstitious nonsense that currently grips the world today.

God’s not an easy thing to give up. Who doesn’t want an all-knowing all-powerful being looking out for you? In the playground of life, who doesn’t want to say, “My big brother is bigger than you and he can kick your ass.” Then again, I don’t have a big brother, and what I’ve heard from friends who do have a big brother is that when he’s not sticking up for you at the playground, he’s tormenting you at home by pushing your face in the dirt and stealing the heads from your Barbies.

God, of course, would never do such things, right? An all-knowing all-powerful being is all about love, right? All those people who do horrible things in the name of their God have things completely screwed up and obviously don’t know what their religion is REALLY supposed to be about.

Except, they do. They’ve actually read and contemplated the words in their Holy Texts. It’s the rest of us who’ve gotten it wrong. We’ve cherry picked the ideas from the texts that give us warm fuzzies and ignored the rest, if we’ve bothered to read them at all.

Those of you long time Atheists will know all this and know it’s been said better by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Should there actually be someone reading this that doesn’t, I humbly point you in their direction. Get thee to a bookstore and buy The God Delusion and The End of Faith!

I was raised Catholic, but not until after my parents divorced when I was seven. I don’t know remember anything religious happenings in my life from before they divorced. My father is an Atheist and my grandmother on my mother’s side was possibly an Atheist as well. Maybe it was because we went to stay with Catholic friends that my mother started practicing. I do remember her telling me that she wanted to raise me with religion so I’d never feel alone in the world. She didn’t say it was because it was true.

I now think it’s unfortunate that neither my father nor my grandmother, for whatever reason, chose to oppose this new religious direction. Perhaps it was the strength of my mother’s will or perhaps they thought, “it couldn’t hurt.” Perhaps they’d never heard of Catholic Guilt.

The Catholic Church teaches that divorce is wrong. When I asked my divorced mother about it, I was informed that her marriage to my father didn’t count because they weren’t married in the Catholic Church. I remember thinking at the time that logic was sort of bending the rules and also wondering if that made me a bastard. (The Bastard was a TV Miniseries at the time and it was very titillating to learn there were bad words that suddenly weren’t bad words if you meant them in a different way.) She had another brief, non-counting marriage, before having the real one with a third man.

Years and years of CCD (what they called Catechism before that and call something else now) and I never made it to confirmation. Like all teenagers, by High School I believed I knew better than adults and told my mom I didn’t believe in God or that Jesus was his son. This pissed off my mother, but then I was only just getting started with finding things with which to piss her off. I believed religion was a crutch and religious people were nutcases. My teenage self would be horrified at some of my later religious phases.

A year or so after High School, and much family drama, I found myself without friends or family and in the Army. My solitude, my need, and a book I found in the library called Drawing Down the Moon led me into Wicca. It, and the Mists of Avalon, had me convinced that all the time I’d been praying to the Virgin Mary who I really should be worshiping was the Goddess.

You know how hard that is to admit? It’s like getting caught singing into the hairbrush in front of the mirror.

Wicca was cool and I could see all kinds of parallels between the rituals from the Catholic Church and the rituals practiced in spells. And Magik is really all about focusing your positive energy to influence the world around you. Not much different than the woo from “The Secret” or “What the Bleep”. It did make me feel incredibly cool and gothic and special. And I totally missed the point that I was estranged from my mother and was now replacing her with a Goddess?

Then I fell in love with a Baptist who feared that I and my heathen ways were going to Hell because I hadn’t accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. Man we do stupid things for love don’t we? First I went along with it because I wanted him and wanted him to marry me, and then I got sucked into it completely. I helped in my own brainwashing. I went to Bible study. I listened to Christian radio. I was led to be “Born Again” and was baptized with a full dunking in a Baptist Church because my Catholic baptism as a child “didn’t count.” My Baptist in-laws were so happy. Wow, I finally had parents who were proud of me.

And when my marriage was failing and my husband was wetting the bed because he was too drunk to wake up in the night, I bought the Praying Wife and stuck with it. Eventually the day finally came six years later that I couldn’t stick with it anymore.

And without him I didn’t go to Baptist Church anymore. I started going to Catholic Church again because I missed the ritual and non-Catholic Churches don’t feel like “real” churches. Where’s the stained glass? Where’s the incense? Where are the pews and the statues? But it was lacking in the “motivational speaking” I’d come to depend on from the Baptist side. So I retained my brain washing and listened to Christian Radio and read the Left Behind Series. I almost dumped my said-he-was-Catholic-but-didn’t-really-believe-in-it-but-believed-in-something boyfriend because, according to my Left Behind saturated mind, he was damned and going to Hell.

The rapture is imminent you know. It has been since the beginning of Christianity.

This time when love won out over everything else it luckily turned out to be the right decision.

I started to think that if only I could get back to what the Catholic Church was before it was corrupted by mankind. Back when priests could still get married and sex wasn’t a bad thing. I tried to learn more because I desperately wanted a Teresa of Avila experience. I wanted to know religious ecstasy. I thought if I could just learn more I’d be able to reach certainty and not feel like I was deluding myself.

I was watching one of the many documentaries they have on the History or Discovery Channel about the history of the Bible or the Christians, I don’t remember the specific program, but it mentioned very casually, as an aside, that there was doubt as to whether Jesus ever existed.

What… wait a minute…WHAT? I thought that the existence of Jesus wasn’t in doubt. That couldn’t be true. There had to at least have been a guy that at one time was a leader and maybe later on his message was distorted. There had to have been someone who was the Martin Luther King of his day right?

And much like described in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There, the more I looked for a historical Jesus, the more, or rather less, I found of him. This was the beginning of the domino chain that led to my Atheism.

I have friends who are praying for me, hoping that someday I’ll come back into the light. I know that they mean it out of love and concern for me. Out of love and concern for them, I hope that one day they will find their way out of the superstitious dark ages and into the light of science and wonder. My world has gotten bigger and more wonderful since the bindings of dogma have been removed.

It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. - W.K. Clifford