The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Friday, October 29, 2010

Atheism 101 - You Can't Use [Insert Sacred Text] to Prove [Insert Sacred Text]

I know this is very basic.  Tooth grindingly basic.  Agonizingly obvious.  Belileve me, I know.  But having had to explain this concept a number of time in the past few days I feel compelled to just list out a few reasons so I can simply direct people here rather than repeat myself.

Simply stated, you cannot use the Bible, Quran, Torah, Talmud, Book of Satan, or any other sacred text to prove that what that book says is true.  Why?

Let us assume arguendo that the <Insert Allegedly Sacred Text> is internally consistent and free of logical contradictions.  Does internal logical consistency bequeath external truth?


Internal logical consistency is the hallmark of good writing and good storytelling but it in no way either mandates or implies external truth. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Society Doesn't Need To Be Saved By God, Society Has Saved Us From God

To be sure, we are small.

Insignificant in a cosmic sense.  Utterly irrelevant in any wider context.  That we are unimportant in any Universal sense, however, does not mean that what we do is without meaning, without purpose, without grace and beauty and power.

The reality is that nearly every single thing in the Universe is fixed on a specific level of existential association. Objects and entities associate with their cosmic and or atomic peers and rarely if ever transcend the natural level of association that dominate their existence. Our sun, for example, will never meaningfully interact with anything outside of the handful of humble planets caught in its orbit. Even when our sun swells as it enters its death throes billions of years from now, and destroys the inner planets, it will have no impact whatsoever on any other portion of the galaxy. The same applies to nearly every other star in the galaxy. Even those stars massive enough detonate in supernovae explosions only truly impact a tiny portion of the galaxy as a whole and do nothing beyond.

While nearly everything else in the Universe is fixed in the ways and on the levels of existence with which it can associate, life is not. More importantly, we as humans are not fixed and are not static in our ability to interact with the larger world. Humans are uniquely positioned and uniquely capable of transcending the limits imposed by virtue of our birth.

Humans are born into this world as mewling, helpless creatures. We are primates, animals. The difference between ourselves and our closest evolutionary ancestors are differences of degree, not differences in kind. Yet that difference exists. And because of that crucial difference in degree, we, despite our animal nature, are capable of transcendence in ways no other creature could even conceive of. We are capable of transcending and transforming not only our basest and most fundamental instincts, but our physical limitations, our geographical limitations and even our terrestrial limitations.

One need look no further than the society we have created. Billions upon Billions of individuals who live together, work together and share in resources together in an amazingly complex system that is simply mindboggling in its size and scope. What is truly amazing about human society is NOT that it occasionally breaks down and results in violence and barbarism, but that such violence and barbarism are the exception rather than the rule.

Human civilization has achieved a size, scope, and level of integration that would have been utterly impossible a century ago and would have been utterly incomprehensible two centuries ago. Modern human societies are a marvel of complexity. Modern cities and nation states facilitate the physical, geographical, economic, social, intellectual, political, and religious interactions of tens of millions and billions of humans with one another virtually instantaneously compared to any other period in human history. At the turn of the 18th century, the population of the entire world was less than a billion. By the end of the 20th century, the world population had swelled to well over six billion. One would think that this massive explosion in population would lead to a scarcity of resources and the rise of armed conflict and the destabilization of society, yet the exact opposite is true.

To be sure, societies are still capable of failure. There are regions of the world where history, economics, religion and outside interference have created persistent failed states where societies routinely fail in their most basic functions. And to be sure, the existence of armed conflict has persisted into the twentieth century as well.

Indeed, the second world war was the single bloodiest episode in human history in terms of the absolute number of humans slaughtered as a result of armed conflict. The conflict was the second truly global conflict that involved nearly every society on earth. Approximately 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 human beings were killed during the near constant warfare that raged during 1939 to 1945. Despite the appalling number of dead and wounded during that period, however, that conflict resulted in casualties to less than 3% of the world population despite nearly every societies' involvement. Even this, the most grotesque example of warfare in modern history, was actually far less destructive than the wars that dominated earlier epochs of human civilization which often resulted in the deaths of 10% to 20% of the societies involved.  And the period since the second world war, largely as a result of human civilization's realization of the true consequences of warfare has been far and away the most peaceful period in human existence.

While individual regions and nations states existing on the margins of global civilization still struggle to maintain functional societies, the majority of the developed and developing world have joined a global society that is truly epic in its size and scope. That this monstrously complex, multi-faceted, multi-level, multi-disciplinary organism we call society functions at all is one of the most amazing facets of human existence. What is truly amazing and awe inspiring about our global society is that it is a creation entirely of and for humankind. Our luminous, wondrous, awe-inspiring civilization and all of its grandeur and beauty is not the result of the hand of some invisible sky wizard, but the result of the endless ingenuity, vision and labor of countless of billions of human beings all working together to ensure that this organism we have created, this entity that encompasses all of us, survives and thrives.

Perhaps the most astonishing facet of human society is not that it occasionally needs to resort to coercive measures to maintain its effective functioning, but that it need to do so on such an infrequent basis. Indeed, perhaps the best measure of the healthy functioning of a society is the frequency of such coercion. In failing societies, coercive corrective action in the form of police or military activities are so routine as to be unremarkable. In thriving societies, such action is anomalous as nearly all citizens actively participate in society. While such participation may be motivated just as easily by greed as by altruism, the simple fact is that in functioning societies, even the greedy recognize that there are greater benefits to be gained by working within society than against it. This is the simple biological truth that Religionists simply fail to grasp – that we are biologically hard wired to cooperate.

Take a moment to reflect on the innumerable benefits society provides to you from the moment you wake up to your alarm clock in the morning. Your alarm clock is powered by electricity provided by a generator hundreds or thousands of miles away, whose emissions are regulated by an agency who ensures that it does not pollute the air you breathe or the water you drink, when you get out of bed to take a hot shower in water that has been purified at some plant in the city you live in and is heated by the natural gas that is extracted by some for-profit corporation and regulated by some government agency and on and on and on.

Every one of us as we move through our day encounters the fruits of the labor of hundreds or thousands of others. While we often work at cross purposes to one another and while we are often fractious, there is little doubt that in the aggregate, human societies are exceptionally durable once they take root and that they largely function in stunning harmony both within individual societies and with one another.

What would have quickly led to armed conflict in earlier periods of human history is now simply worked out through banal and often painfully boring workshops and focus groups by men and women in suits and skirts rather than through men stabbing or shooting at one another. Despite the size, despite the complexity, despite the dizzying interplay of economic, social, religious, contract, legal, property, civil and political forces all simultaneously interacting within human societies, societies seem not only to have thrived in the modern era, but ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity and peace.

The reality is that despite the hysterical mutterings of prophets and mystics and religious zealots, our world is not coming to an end. Our societies are not paragons of evil and sin and iniquity and depravity. Our truly globe spanning society is the single most beautiful, marvelous, amazing, and wondrous creations in human history. A creation entirely of and for humankind. A marketplace of ideas, of knowledge, of commerce, of identity, of creativity, of problem-solving, or self-improvement and advancement. The reality is that far from our society leading us all to some kind of cataclysm that only God can save us from, society has saved us all from the cataclysm of continued reliance on God.

It is no coincidence that those societies that struggle most to maintain basic functionality are those with the most rigid adherence to antiquated principles of religious piety. It is no coincidence that those societies that require the most coercive measures to maintain order and discipline are those that ostensibly require the greatest dedication and adherence to a specific dogma or creed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Glorious Insignificance

We are, all of us, unimaginably small.  Our entire planet, everything that we are as a species, all of the plants and animals that make up our world, our entire biosphere is infinitesimally small.  While our world and our civilization and our individual societies and their attendant squabbles are profoundly important to us, their importance is purely relative - in any sort of cosmic scale, they dwindle into utter insignificance.

Carl Sagan, discussing the first picture of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed Saturn described Earth as "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."  Few quotes have ever been more apt.

If you look closely, in the sunbeam to the right, you can see a single pixel, a single point of light.  That is our planet as seen from three planets away.  This is a picture of our planet from within our own solar system, about 6 and a half hours away if you're travelling at the speed of light.  Even at this incredibly close cosmic distance, our planet dwindles to utter insignificance.  A single point.  Little more than an aberration in the background of blackness.  From the nearest star, over four light years away, our planet would be utterly invisible, detectable only by the way its gravity tugs at the Sun or obscures a tiny fraction of its light as it passes by.

Even when viewed from our closest celestial neighbors, we are incredibly small.  Viewed from any further vantage point, we dwindle into utter obscurity.

Theists have posited the theory that the Universe is 'Finely Tuned' to foster the formation of intelligent life, that the physical constants that underlie the fabric of space, time and matter are so finely balanced that it is somehow evidence of some kind of intelligent authorship, that it is evidence of God.  This is utter rubbish.  This anthropocentrism, this arrogance, this narcissism, this persistent belief that WE are somehow the center of the Universe, the purpose of the Universe is obscenely conceited and utterly, hopelessly backwards.  The Universe is not 'Fine Tuned' to generate beings like us, WE are fine tuned to live in the Universe as it exists.  Our biology is adapted to the physical constants that exist.  The physical constants are not designed to generate us.

It is undoubtedly true that if the Universe were other than it is, beings like us probably would not exist.  To argue that other kinds of beings, however, other formations of matter or electro-matter or anti-matter or what not would not or could not form, is utterly baseless.  We are merely a small part of the Universe.  A single spore floating in the void.

Even assuming that some manner of entity created all of this, what kind of conceited, arrogant, narcissist could possibly believe that WE are worthy of its attention?  That WE are worthy of its companionship?  That WE are worthy of a personal relationship with it?  As I describe in great detail in the Great Chain, the difference between such a being and ourselves is far greater than the difference between me and a single bacteria.  To be sure, such a being COULD do whatever it wanted, but to believe that it is probable or even plausible that such a being would have the slightest interest in beings such as us is laughably silly.

And so what?  So what if the Creator of the Great All isn't interested in us?  Who cares?  We are what we are.  We dwell on the level of existence that we dwell on.  And within that level, within our glorious cosmic insignificance, we have done amazing things.  We have created wonders that surpass anything previous generations have ever dreamed of.  We have created societies that value peace and freedom and personal autonomy.  Imperfect as we may be, our civilization continues to progress, continues to evolve, continues to grow and thrive.

And so what if we are insignificant in a cosmic sense?  Who cares if God doesn't want a relationship with us?  We don't need him.  We don't need him for companionship, or comfort, or meaning, or morality.  We have each other.  We have friends.  We have lovers.  We have laws.  We have society.  We have our beautiful, amazing, living, breathing, breathtaking world.  And we have a glorious future.

Theists often confuse meaning with cosmic importance.  The reality is that meaning is not something that is derived from without, but something that comes from within.  So revel in your cosmic irrelevance.  Revel in your humanity.  Revel in who and what we are - in our glorious insignificance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Secret Atheist Plot to Ban Religion, Persecute Believers and Eat Children Revealed!!!

Many Theists cleave to an incredibly deranged and dystopian fantasy about Atheists.  They seem to not only believe that we intend to prevent them from worshipping and impose some manner of Scientism on them, but that we will then discard all morality, destroy all civil and societal institutions and then drag us all down into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

My only question is how did they find out?  And how did they miss the fact that we also like to eat babies.

This conceit is laughable, but it crops up again and again and again.  Indeed, one of the strongest alleged defenses in theism's favor is this conceit that without theism, there can be no objective morality.  Theologians like William Lane Craig explicitly makes this argument, in a reducto ad absurdum, basically stating that if there is any objective right or wrong, then it must come from God.

The logic behind such a statement is laughable at best because it is only possible to state objective moral truths for and between human beings.  Our most BASIC moral truth, one that has been universally and objectively true since LONG before humans even possessed speech is that is wrong to abandon your infants.  This moral truth is absolute for humans.  Inviolate.  This moral truth is not the result of any divine revelation, but an absolute biological necessity. At least for humans. This is because our young are completely and utterly helpless.

Yet hundreds of MILLIONS of species on this planet have no such biological imperative. They always abandon their young to fend for themselves and allow the vast majority to die. It is readily conceivable that the evolution of intelligence in any one of these myriad creatures would generate a moral code WILDLY different from anything we can conveive of.

To argue that our morality represents some manner of Universal morality and that said morality must of necessity come from some Creator God is patently ridiculous.  More ridiculous is the idea that the Abrahamaic God actually follows the morality that he allegedly lays out for us.  The God of Abraham explicitly endorses slavery, spells out how to buy slaves, how to beat them, when to beat them.  The God of Abraham actively endorses genocide, draconian punishments for minor infractions that our society does not even deem criminal, actively endorses warfare, misogyny, homophobia and a host of other ills that modern humans instinctively find repellent.  Worst of all, the supposedly loving, forgiving God of Abraham is unwilling to forgive humans from eternal damnation and has CHOSEN to condemn them to eternal torment for a few decades worth of insufficient love.  How is it that WE, mere humans, are better at following our own morality than the God of Abraham?

Far from our morality reflecting some revelation of a transcendent divine morality that governs the entire Universe, this allegedly transcendent divine morality is merely an idealization of preexisting human morality.  Indeed, the ongoing development of human morality can be clearly seen as the supposedly eternal and unchanging nature of God undergoes a startling metamorphosis from angry tyrannical brutal psychopath in the Old Testament to the warmer, fuzzier, care bear in the New Testament.  What changed?  We did.  Humanity did.  We evolved.

Indeed, the sacred scrolls of the world's hundreds of discarded religions and the handful of active ones do not contain the secrets of the Universe or any information whatsoever about transcendent moral truths as revealed by invisible aliens or space kings.  Instead, these sacred scrolls are our attempts to understand ourselves - reflections of who and what we are as a people.  Reflections of what we believe.

Atheists merely want to take this one step further.  To free ourselves from the need to justify our moral lives based on a world that no longer exists - to update our morality to reflect the world that IS rather than be fettered forever to what was.  Secular morality is just as moral, just as egalitarian, just as dedicated to personal freedom, political freedom, peace and human rights as any theistic morality - indeed, those nations that are moving towards secular morality are the most generous, free, peaceful and crime free places on Earth.  Which is why it is so hilarious that so many seem to believe that atheists want nothing more than to ban religion, persecute believers and destory morality.

And of course, eat babies.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Insulting Idolatry of Theism

While I reject the idea that the Universe is governed by some supremely powerful entity who exercises sovereignty over the cosmos and intervenes in the daily lives of humble monkeys inhabiting a tiny planet at the ass end of nowhere, I fully recognize the reality that the Universe is governed by a vast number of physical properties and principles. The critical difference between ascribing the wonder and complexity of the Universe to the machinations of a deity and the interplay between a physical properties and principles is that unlike a deity, the physical properties and principles of causation can be understood, described, analyzed and tested. They can be independently verified. They can be scrutinized and if they fail, they can be modified or rejected and a new principle can eventually take its place. The physical properties and principles of organization that govern existence are no less marvelous because they are not acts of consciousness or acts of authorship.

The systems that arise to facilitate and arise in opposition to these physical principles are not robbed of their elegance and grace simply because they are not acts of conscious authorship. Why would one ever choose to ascribe the wonder and grace and beauty of the seamlessly interlocking systems that govern existence to an unknowable entity whose very existence cannot be verified, when richer and fuller explanations lie all around us. What is the point? Why would one ever choose Faith in something unknown, unknowable or against the weight of the evidence when far more profound and elegant and verifiable explanations exist?

The systems that exist all around us, that permeate our entire existence do not depend on conscious authorship to function. They do not require the existence of any deity for either their existence, or their continued functionality. Indeed, there is only ONE point at which God represents an entirely plausible answer to the question 'Why.' The only moment at which 'God' is as good an answer as the empirical physical properties and principles of organization that we understand today is at the instant of the Big Bang. I have no problem stating that God is an entirely plausible explanation for what caused the Big Bang. I don't personally subscribe to it, but recognize that it is perfectly intellectually defensible, primarily because we simply do not and cannot know. Everything after that point, however, everything after 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds or so is far, far, far better explained by the physical properties and principles of organization science has been revealing over the centuries.

From the accretion of matter through gravitation and the gravitational collapse of that matter into individual galaxies and stars, from the formation of heavy elements through stellar nucleosynthesis, to the collapse of massive stars and their violent supernovae explosions seeding the galaxy with those same heavy elements, from the formation of small rocky planets with the remnants of long dead stars, to volcanism and plate tectonics, from geology and hydrology, from the formation of amino acids through energetic carbon chemistry, to the first faint glimmers of self-replicating molecules, all of these processes, leading to the formation of life and the eventual rise of intelligence and self-awareness, are better explained by the physical properties of time space and matter and the principles of organization than any manner of conscious authorship or God could ever hope to be.

Not only are we capable of a more complete understanding that is capable of replication and accurate prediction, but that true understanding is far more meaningful than reliance on the intervention of some manner of invisible interplanetary Santa Clause. The process that undergird the Universe and enable the flourishing of life are not diminished in their grace, elegance or beauty by virtue of the fact that they are not the result of some kind of cosmically intelligent design. Indeed, the utter lack of intelligence guiding the formation of these incredibly intricate and complex systems merely reinforces how marvelous our Universe actually is. The physical properties of time space and matter and the principle of organization do not require intelligence to function, they merely compel matter and energy to interact in specific ways under specific conditions. The sum total of these interactions, however, is a system that is far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. And when these innumerable processes interact and influence one another, they are a wonder to behold.

We are on the cusp of understanding so much about the Universe, of understanding so much about the exact mechanisms by which life unfolds, by which our planet regulates itself, by which biospheres create conditions which allows the continual proliferation of life, by which energy and matter and time and space are created.

That understanding is the lifeblood of our species. It is our greatest achievement. Our most precious possession. Understanding and recognizing and appreciating the true marvel of complexity that is our world and our Universe is our greatest gift. No other species can appreciate the complex interplay of mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology that has given rise to this planet and its incredible richness. No other species can appreciate, let alone understand the fabulous complexity of the systems that govern its existence and set its place in the cosmos. We are blessed with a true understanding of the wider world and the intricate machinations that allow it to function.

We have no need to bask in that wondrous complexity and merely call it God. To do so cheapens the entire experience. Indeed, to do so is nothing but primitive idolatry. In the book of Exodus, the Bible describes a confrontation between Moses and the Jewish people that perfectly illustrates this situation. God had decreed that man should not create any graven image to worship Him. Despite this prohibition, while Moses was away, the Jewish people created a golden calf to represent their God so that they could have something to worship. When Moses returned, he was filled with righteous fury. How dare they create an object to encompass something as vast and powerful and amazing as the One True God. Despite the fact that it was an attempt to worship the exact same thing, it was an affront to the very concept of God to distill Him down to a graven image.

By the same token, taking the staggering intricacy encompassed by the interlocking systems that govern our existence and attempting to distill them down to simply an expression of 'God' is an affront to the glorious reality that exists all around us. No God described in any book, or dreamed in the mind of any man could ever come close to describing the true nature of our world and the cosmos – to do so is to do nothing more than create an idol by distilling a far greater reality down to a single concept. Indeed, so ingrained has Faith in these sacred texts become that many practitioners of the Abrahamaic creeds seem to worship the Book itself. This is idolatry in its purest form.

The principles of organization that dominate our existence are numerous and pervasive and the ways in which they interact are cause for celebration and reverence. We owe our entire existence to processes that operate out of sight and mind, both far above and far below our level of existential existence. We owe it to ourselves and our progeny to understand these processes as they truly are, to understand these processes for what they are. For to understand them is to understand ourselves, how we got here, how we can better our lives and our planet and how we can find our place in the cosmos. Ultimately, in understanding these processes, we may even eventually enable our species to transcend our level of existential association and achieve transcendence for this planet and for ourselves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Conservatism's Banrkupt and Failed Ideology Must Be Stopped

I don't really want to stray into politics, but as the election draws near, please indulge me this once - at least until the next election season.  I apologize for the ranty polemic.

Modern Conservatism is an utterly failed, worthless, bankrupt ideology whose policies have led to utter disaster and offers no solutions to any of the problems that confront the modern world.  In place of solutions, modern conservatism has degenerated into an incohate mass of anger, rage, racism, nativism, xenophobia and homophobia.  Modern Conservatism offers no path forward.  None.  Name one idea presented by a conservative to address global warming, to fix healthcare, to regulate financial institutions, to fix education, to fix infrastructure, to address income inequality.  ... ... ...  Instead of solutions, modern Conservatives merely repackage and re-brand policies and ideologies that have already been proven failures - sexed up versions of the same intellectually bankrupt ideas that have already proven so disastrous.

Conservatism has been on the wrong side of history on virtually every single important economic, social, and political question presented over the last three centuries.

Opposition to emancipation.
Opposition to racial equality.
Opposition to suffrage.
Opposition to gender equality.
Opposition to integration.
Opposition to evolution.
Opposition to science.
Opposition to social security.
Opposition to welfare.
Opposition to abortion.
Opposition to the United Nations.
Opposition to gay rights.
Opposition to healthcare.
Opposition to industrial, financial and environmental regulation.
Opposition to the clear science on global warming.

Conservatism has failed again and again and again.  Indeed, the question is less why Conservatism continues to advocate for policies and practices and ideas that have clearly failed, but why anyone would possibly advocate Conservatism given its appalling and ongoing legacy of failure.  Conservatism is and always has been the opponent of change, the opponent of progress.  Why?  Because at its heart, conservatism is and always has been a movement by the rich, for the rich.  And if you are ridiculously wealthy, why on Earth would you want anything to change?  Since the rich constitute only a tiny (albeit extraordinarily powerful) constituency, they utilize racism, nativism, homophobia, xenophobia, militarism, abortion and cultural and religious issues that the wealthy really couldn't care less about, to motivate foot soldiers for their self-aggrandizing cause.

The Bush years constituted one of the most disastrous periods in American history.  Lest we forget, Bush and the Republican Party's unswerving and slavish devotion to doctrinal, social and religious conservatism and militant foreign adventurism led to the following:

Ongoing disaster in Afghanistan.
Ongoing disaster in Iraq.
Ongoing denial of global warming.
Ongoing denial of due process for detainees.
Ongoing warrantless surveillance of American Citizens.
Creation of 'Free Speech Zones'.
Clinton's 2000 Surplus of $256,000,000,000 IMMEDIATELY handed over to the rich leading to a $415,000,000,000 Deficit by 2004 and over $500,000,000,000 by 2008.
Deregulation of Financial Industry and attendant financial collapse leading to 8,200,000 lost jobs.
Unprecedented income inequality.
Crumbling infrastructure.

The list goes on and on and on.  The failures of Conservatism are so manifest and so glaring that it is virtually inconceivable that <i>anyone</i> could possibly advocate for those same policies, let alone that anyone would listen.  Yet that is exactly what is happening.  Americans are scared.  Terrified that the economy is not recovering fast enough.  Horrified at the prospect of losing their homes.  And in their fear, they have returned to the very ideology that has so horribly abused them in the past.

Conservatism is ultimately an ideology of fear.  Fear on the part of the rich that they won't be able to endlessly aggrandize themselves, fear on the part of their poor foot soldiers that the world is changing, that their precious social and cultural expectations and prejudices might have to be reanalyzed, fear about our place in the world, fear about our place in the cosmos.  Conservatism is all about fearing the future and looking backwards to the past.

We cannot afford to go back.  We can't.  The stakes have grown too high for the human species to look back for inspiration.  We must look forward and Conservatism either cannot or will not do so.  Conservatism must be stopped.

To be sure, Democrats are right to be demoralized.  Our leadership has not delivered on all of the promises they made.  They have advocated for many of the same lawless detention programs, surveillance programs, drone strikes and ongoing war as their more conservative predecessors.  But the alternative?  The Palins, the O'Donnells, the Angles, the Thunes and Boehners and DeMints...  These psychotic mouth-breathers are simply too Conservative, too dangerous, too reactionary, too unhinged to allow anywhere near the levers of power.  They MUST be stopped.  So please, for the love of the God I don't believe in, Vote.

End Rant.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Faith - Last Refuge of the Irrational

The Myth of Original Sin does far more evil than merely inverting our inherent desire for knowledge and understanding and turning our greatest and most beautiful attribute into a means of debasement.  Perhaps even more vile, the Myth of Original Sin seeks to replace our greatest attribute, our rationality and understanding with Faith.

While there is an extensive epistemological discussion on what constitutes Faith elsewhere on this page, the brief summary is this.  Faith is a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition in spite of evidence that the belief is incorrect.  Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith.

Faith is impervious to reason.  Unmoved by evidence.  Undeterred by logical inconsistency of fallacy.  Faith is, by its very nature, an irrational belief, a belief contrary to the available evidence.  The very antithesis of rational understanding.

The Myth of Original Sin takes our inherent desire to know and understand the world through our senses and with our minds and declares that we are evil, debased, fallen because of our curiosity and our desire to know.  Our most basic human desire and our most powerful means of knowing about ourselves and the World is therefore BAD.  At the same time, our redemption from our fallen state, our salvation from our mortal sin is to have Faith in an unseen, unknown, empirically obscured entity known as God.  To have Faith, is therefore GOOD.

Since God is unseen, unknown and empirically obscured, how do we know what to have Faith in?
Have Faith in what his Agents tell us about Him.

How do they know what his Will is?
Have Faith because they have received Revelations from Him (or ARE Him).

How do we know that they're telling the truth?
Have Faith.

How do we know that they're accurately reporting what His will is?
Have Faith.

How do we explain the fact that a lot of what you say is inconsistent?

How do we explain the fact that a lot of what you say is inconsistent with our observations of the world?

How do we explain...
Look, you just don't get it, Faith does not require explanations - explanations are unnecessary.  In fact, if you could explain it, if you had evidence for it, it wouldn't require Faith and it would therefore be BAD.

The Myth of Original Sin and Exultation of Faith are an insidious masterstroke for the human Agents of God.  In one fell swoop, they completely insulate themselves from any and all criticism, any and all rational inquiry, any and all accountability for discrepancies and inconsistencies in their 'Revelations.'  Any irrationality can be quickly dismissed for to seek knowledge and understanding is BAD, a part of our fallen and debased nature.  And to have Faith in SPITE of contrary evidence is GOOD.  Therefore any troublesome question can be quickly dismissed with a simple admonition that the questioner lacks the proper amount of Faith.

This is, of course, complete lunacy.

What is truly ironic is that while Faith is a perfectly valid salve for any and all inconsistencies, errors, inaccuracies and unexplainable or irreconcilable problems within a given belief structure, Faith in OTHER belief structures is wholly invalid.  Christians, Jews, Muslims all extol the virtues of Faith.  When asked why they do not believe in the belief systems advocated by others, however, what do they cite?  Evidence of inconsistencies, errors, inaccuracies, unexplainable or irreconcilable problems within that belief structure and deviations from their own belief structure.  In other words, THEY CITE EVIDENCE!  They appeal to REASON!  They reject OTHER FAITHS based on evidence and reason, yet fail to apply the same standard to their own.

As an outsider, all of their criticisms appear valid and their reasons for rejecting one another's faiths all appear wholly rational.  The problem here is NOT rationality, NOT reason, NOT understanding or our desire to know.  The common problem is Faith.  The common problem is irrationality.  Which leads, of course, to the old saying 'When you understand why I have rejected all other Faiths, you will understand why I have rejected yours.'

I found via Redheaded Skeptic credit to Freethunk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Insipid Myth of Original Sin

Few Religionist traditions are more patently offensive than the myth of Original Sin and its dogmatic progeny, the myth of fallen humanity.  What is our Original Sin?  What is our great, intractable failing?  What was our deep vileness that was so abhorrent that a SINGLE human's action would be sufficient to condemn our entire species for all eternity?

Our inherent quest for knowledge.  Our curiosity.  Our desire to understand.  God creates us with an inherent longing for knowledge and understanding and then damns our ENTIRE species because ONE human had the temerity to act on what God instilled within him? That is deranged.

Words cannot describe the despicable inversion this insipid myth works.  Our inherent desire to understand, our curiosity, our unquenchable thirst to know is our single greatest asset.  It is our most beautiful attribute.  It is what makes us truly human and separates us from every single other organism that has ever swam, wriggled, crawled or walked across this planet.  We are the creature that asks why.  No other creature on this planet has ever looked up at the sky and asked why or how.  No other creature on this planet has ever attempted to understand itself or its environment.

Our inherent desire to understand is our most powerful evolutionary adaptation.  Understanding it is what allowed us to tame fire, to hunt, to anticipate the seasons, to grow crops, to form societies, to form tribes and nations.  Understanding and knowledge are what drive technology, what enables expansion and it is understanding that drives our most basic emotional desires.  Understanding is the ultimate human achievement.  It is what humans aspire to in all things whether we recognize it or not.  From the first moments of human consciousness, it is the quest for understanding that has propelled us forward as both individuals and as a species.

Understanding is so powerful because it is through understanding and through attempting to understand that we appreciate the beauty, utility and power of the world and people around us.  It is understanding that undergirds our emotional response to the amazing and often mystifying world around us.  Through understanding that we can grow to love this world and one another.  Understanding breeds excitement, it breeds joy, it breeds excitement, appreciation, and contentment.  If you ever doubt this proposition, simply watch a child, or new lovers.  Witness the way in which both are suffused with the joy and excitement of a multitude of new understandings and are filled with life because of it.  For what is love other than our feeble, flawed and often unsuccessful attempts to understand the mind and heart of another?  What is hate other than our failure or inability to understand the minds and hearts of others or our disappointment that what we thought we understood was an illusion?

The myth of Original Sin is so pernicious and vile because it takes our greatest and most beautiful asset, our desire to understand, and inverts it as our fatal flaw.  It debases and denigrates our most precious attribute and uses that to foist onto us the myth of humanity as a fallen, debased, despicable creature.  This inversion is unspeakably awful in that it warps and twists the single greatest factor in our advancement and progress as a species and turns it into a weapon against us.  We are fallen, wretched, unworthy NOT because of what we do, but because of what we are, because of our inherent desire to understand.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do Religionists Actually Believe the Words in Their Sacred Texts?

Thanks to the wonders of searchable databases, locating specific provisions of the seminal religious texts has never proven easier.  What used to be a cumbersome task requiring a Concordance is now the work of a few minutes at a computer.  As a result, building a textual case against Biblical Morality, or against Yahweh or Allah as the Greatest Conceivable Being has never been easier.  These seminal religious texts explicitly endorse slavery and describe in tooth grinding detail how to purchase slaves, how you should beat them, when you can beat them, etc.  These seminal religious texts explicitly advocate for invasion, occupation, genocide, murder.  In many instances, God himself directly intervenes and kills scores of innocents.  At other times he merely orders his followers to do so.  Moreover, God, the supposed fount of unconditional love and forgiveness, is more than willing to condemn humans to ETERNAL torture over a few measly decades of rejection.  The text is jarringly clear on these points.

When these issues are raised however, when one points to the text, cites the verses and makes the case that perhaps these brutal books penned during horrific epochs in human development might be inconsistent, might be contradictory, might imply a God that is somewhat less than advertised, we are accused of 'Quote Mining.'  Quote Mining?  Apparently, using the literal text of a book that is allegedly literally true is inappropriate when done by atheists.  Apparently we lack the proper context to understand what the explicit text means.  That we need to apply incredibly sophisticated interpretative techniques and years of study to decipher what certainly appear to be explicit commands and statements of intention.  Apparently these books do not mean what they say, but mean what they have been interpreted to mean by people thousands of years later.

Which really begs the question - Do Religionists actually believe what is written in their sacred texts?  Do they even know what is written in their sacred texts?  The recent Pew poll shows a shocking lack of understanding of basic religious tenets and doctrine by Religionists - which strongly implies that they do not really know what is written in their sacred texts, and more importantly, that they do not care.  When selling their religion to the uninitiated, Christians (sorry, but I'm most familiar with their sales pitch) preach about the loving, caring, forgiving God.  They severely downplay or outright ignore the angry, wrathful, vindictive, petty, vain, jealous murdering God.  When Christians want to preach about hating those whom they find distasteful, gays, Muslims, atheists, they focus exclusively on the angry, wrathful, vindictive God and completely ignore the supposedly loving, forgiving God.

When pressed on the actual words in these books that are supposedly literally true, they accuse us of twisting the meaning, of taking everything out of context.  Either that or they argue that the world back then was very different and that we have no right to judge - a better statement of moral relativism cannot be made.  The reality is that most Religious people either do not know or do not believe in the words in their sacred texts.  They believe in a highly personalized understanding and heavily reinterpreted version of the parts of the sacred text that they like and comport with their preexisting feelings and freely discard the rest.  Which would be fine EXCEPT that they claim to have exclusive access to Truth by virtue of supposed revelation set down in a literally true book written by the Creator of the Great All.

Either your book is literally true from cover to cover or it isn't.  If Religionists disclaim its inherent literal truth  then Religionsists have no greater claim to Truth than anyone else.  If they want to claim its inherent literal truth, however, then Religionists MUST provide explanations for the inconsistencies, contradictions and cold brutality of their allegedly unconditionally loving and caring deity.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stop Looking Backwards!

We are living, at this very moment, at the apex of human civilization. No civilization, no society, no people in the history of this planet have lived in a period of time as blessed with material abundance, peace, longevity, comfort, and health. So why does religion constantly look backwards for inspiration and moral guidance? Why is religion constantly looking over our historical shoulder and attempting to impose the ideologies, social mores, prejudices and beliefs of ancient and barbaric civilizations on our own?

The formative years of nearly all of the major religions took place during periods of relative decline. During periods where it could be accurately stated and empirically verified that the past was better. At the time it would have been utterly rational to look back for wisdom, because, ancient wisdom was vastly superior to contemporary wisdom.

Imagine what it would be like to have been a peasant farmer in a backwater fiefdom in England or France. Your civilization is dominated by isolation, by illiteracy, by poverty, by tiny buildings with thatched roofs. Yet dotting the landscape are the remnants of a society vastly more sophisticated, wealthy and technologically advanced than your own. Huge ruined buildings larger than anything your civilization could conceive of building. A testament to the literal fact that the past was better than the present.

When we look at the ruins of ancient civilizations, we marvel at the ingenuity of the people that constructed them with such comparatively primitive technology. When fifth and sixth century Europeans looked at the ruins of Rome, and when their forebearers looked at the ruins of the ancient Greeks, their frame of reference is completely reversed. Those ruins were concrete evidence that once upon a time, societies were capable of things that are now impossible. There is nothing in our experience that is even remotely analogous. A similar experience would require something on the order of walking out of a modern city and seeing the largely intact remnants of an ancient alien spacecraft.

Unlike the societies that bred our backward looking religious traditions. Our civilization is not in decline. Our civilization has advanced immeasurably in the past several hundred years and our rapid technological advancement has fueled a level of integration and material well-being that is unparalleled in human history. We have no one to look up to, because we are living at the pinnacle of human existence thus far. In the event that humankind has some catastrophe in the next hundred years, it is our present civilization that our progeny will look back upon for wisdom and guidance, for understanding of the Universe.

Religion is backwards looking, at least in part, because the men who codified the canons of religious lore, practice, ethics, hailed from a time where the past was demonstrably better than the present. We, however, have no need to look back for guidance, no need to fetter ourselves to ancient and outdated tracts. We do not seek to emulate the ancients when it comes to science or medicine or politics or economics, why would we seek to emulate their morality? Why would we seek to emulate their mythology? Why, when the civilization we have created is so much better than anything that has come before?

We should not look backwards for guidance, but forward for inspiration.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Christians Need to Shut the Hell Up About Homosexuality

Having encountered a number of unapologetic gay haters during debates over the last several days, I would just like to spend a brief moment outlining exactly why Christians need to STFU about homosexuality.

The entire argument about the inherent sinfulness and wrongness about homosexuality is grounded in essentially two verses in the book of Leviticus.  Lev 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." And Lev 20:13 "they [homosexuals] shall surely be put to death."  So basically, according to your precious and literally true book, homosexuality is a sin because it is an abomination and those who practice in abominations 'shall surely be put to death.'

So why should Christians STUF about homosexuality?  Because the following are also listed as abominations in their book that they insist is LITERALLY true.

Adultery (Lev 18:20)
Sex With Animals (Lev 18:23)
Sex during menstruation (Lev 18:19)
Beard Trimming (Lev 19:26-28)
Tarot Readings (Lev 19:26-28)
Tattoos (Lev 19:26-28)
Rare Meat (Lev 17:10)
Shellfish (Lev 11:10)
Cross dressing (Deut 22:5)
Graven Images (Deut 7:25)
Blended Fabrics (Deut. 22:11)
Remarriage if your wife had another husband in between (Deut 24:4)
Lying (Prov 6:17, 12:22)
Dishonest Business Practices (Prov 11:1, Prov 11:16)
Haughtiness (Prov 6:17)
Charging or Paying Interest (Pslm 15:1-5, Jer. 15:10)

So as a shellfish loving, rare meat eating, haughty, blended fabric wearing, credit card paying, beard trimming, straight man who has had the occasion to cross dress on Halloween, had sex during menstruation, and who has lied on occasion, I am just as much an abomination as any homosexual.  So lay off the gay hating Christians.  Unless you want to acknowledge your own abominable nature for haughtily shaving and wearing polyester slacks while enjoying that crab topped steak that you purchased on your interest charging credit card, which... makes you no different than them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Theistic Self-Loathing

The idea that humanity possesses a tendency towards inherent goodness has been most unpopular with Theists.  It is incredibly saddening that so many possess such a vested interest in self-hatred that they cannot even view their own humanity without disdain and loathing.  By any conceivable metric, our civilization is infinitely better than the squalid, oppressive nightmare of the ancient world.  Our lives are far longer, richer, and healthier.  We are freer intellectually, physically, geographically, sexually, religiously than our ancient ancestors could possibly dream of.  We live in a world filled with wonders the ancients would only be able to describe as magical.  We can fly, we have touched the moon, we can see into the furthest reaches of space and can analyze the composition of the Universe, we understand our own genetic heritage, we are plumbing the structure of time and space and matter itself.

Moreover, our civilization has rejected the barbarism of the ancients.  Our civilization is repulsed at the thought of slavery.  The vast majority of our civilization feels revulsion at the thought of torture.  Bigotry and hatred are no longer tolerated in public discourse.  The vast majority of human civilization believes in and strive for racial and gender equality.  Our civilization conducts warfare with the specific aim of limiting civilian casualties.  Our civilization makes extensive efforts to ameliorate the effects of famine and starvation and natural disasters.  Our civilization actually makes great efforts to ameliorate the suffering of and care for the refugees of war, going so far as to provide shelter and food and water and medicine even for citizens of our enemies.  Such things would have been unthinkable in the ancient world.  Madness.

By any metric one chooses to use, health, wealth, education, generosity, longevity, peace, justice, equality our world is vastly better than anything that has come before in human civilization.  To be sure, our civilization is far from perfect, we still struggle with starvation in many parts of the world, and progress has been uneven, but to deny that in the aggregate our civilization has not progressed is simply intellectually dishonest.

And so Theists resort to a rather clever causal sleight of hand.  When presented with a specific human initiative that has made society more just, fair, egalitarian, the Theist attributes the TRUE causation to God.  The humans who spearheaded the Abolitionist movement were merely acting at the behest of God, therefore that progress is really God's.  Any progress achieved by humans is therefore discounted and cannot be used to demonstrate that humans may not actually be as wretched and despicable as they would like to believe.  Any harmful act, however, every rape, every murder, every war, every cruelty is simply cited as evidence of humanity's fallen nature.  Problem solved.  Overwhelming contrary evidence discounted by false attribution, individual exceptions used to prove the presupposition that humanity is inherently flawed, despicable and evil.

One still is left to wonder, however, why it is that the least religious nations on Earth, those who have consciously chosen to eschew Divine Guidance are the most generous, most peaceful, most egalitarian, societies on Earth and the most religious nations on Earth are the most warlike, oppressive, violent and totalitarian.  God apparently works in VERY mysterious ways.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Uselessness of Prayer

We are creatures who crave causation. We see an effect and we look for a cause. Unlike any other creature, our intelligence leads us to the inescapable conclusion that when something happens, something else must have caused it to happen. While this is one of the hallmarks of our intelligence, it often leads to erroneous conclusions, and gross misattributions especially when the effects which we are attempting to explain have multiple causes, or whose causes are not readily apparent.  Nothing illustrates our tendency to misattribute cause than the belief in the efficacy of prayer.

We crave causation because it provides us with the illusion that if we can control the cause, we can control the outcome. The idea of an interventionist deity is the ultimate expression of this primal craving for a knowable causation. Early humans had little to no understanding of the underlying mechanics of the world they inhabited. The idea that the landforms they walked were the result of complex geological and hydrological processes operating over billions of years would have been utterly unfathomable to an early human. The idea that the weather that battered or blessed their crops arose due to the complex interplay between those landforms and thermal, pressure and humidity gradients that are themselves driven by the sun's influence on atmospheric and oceanic conditions would have been incomprehensible. Early humans could see the effect of weather, could even track the budding symptoms of weather to come, but utterly lacked any knowledge of the cause.

Gods were a simple answer to an unimaginably complex set of questions. Why did the weather do what it did? Why does the sea do what it does? Because the gods are angry or benevolent or a million other human emotions. By assigning human emotions to the divine and by then assigning those emotions to some physical manifestation, that primordial craving for an underlying cause is satisfied. More importantly, if these physical manifestations can be explained by some divine emotional state, it places complex physical systems under human control, because if we could somehow alter the emotional state of the divine, placate it through prayer, meditation, sacrifice, or otherwise, we can ultimately exert control over our physical environment. And so throughout human history, men have prayed, meditated, pleaded and sacrificed in the hopes of exerting control over the physical world by appealing to the fickle emotions of a million different divinities.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - Humanity Has No Need For God

Why do the most highly religious societies tend to be the most poverty stricken, crime ridden, hungry, illiterate, undereducated, unsafe, violent and aggressive societies on Earth? Even if religiosity is not a direct cause of these fundamental ills, why does it correlate so strongly with the worst tendencies and instincts humanity has to offer? Why is it that when religiosity insinuates itself more strongly in the secular world, that societies seem to tend towards stagnation and decay?

Religion is, at a fundamental level, a means of disempowering the individual in favor of the empowerment of God.  And in favor of his alleged representatives here on Earth.  Religion stresses the paramount importance of obedience, acceptance and reliance on the Divine Will and substitution of the Divine Will for the will of man. This fundamental disempowerment of the individual lies at the core of all of the Abrahamaic religions and nearly every theology I have ever encountered. So pervasive is this belief, that even groups like Alcoholics Anonymous talk endlessly about the need to substitute the will of a 'Higher Power' for your own.

It is difficult to overstate the disempowerment inherent in this mentality. This fundamental desire to overthrow the will of man in favor of the Divine Will lies at the root of why religion is uniquely ill suited for governance. Obviously, the Atheist does not believe there is a God, so as far as the Atheist is concerned, the idea of substituting our will for that of an invisible spaceman and his Earthly representatives is patently ridiculous. However, MUCH of the world actually believes that the Creator of the Great All is obsessively interested in the mundane trivialities of their daily lives. They believe this despite the fact that few of us lead lives interesting enough to satisfy television audiences for an hour of reality television a week, let alone create obsessive interest in the Sovereign of hundreds of billions of galaxies.

Nevertheless, religion is deeply disempowering because it tells humans, individuals with thoughts and ideas and beliefs and dreams and wills of their own, that THEIR wills are fundamentally unimportant. Even worse, it purveys this idea by pushing the belief that human beings are inherently flawed, broken, fallen creatures who are incapable of and unworthy of salvation based solely on what we are. The corrosiveness of this belief system is staggering.

We are unworthy of salvation NOT because of anything we DO, but because of what we are. Even if we were to live perfect lives, our imperfect THOUGHTS would be sufficient to condemn us to outer darkness. Salvation, whatever that is, may only be attained through reliance on and acceptance of the Divine Will. It is only through the acceptance of the dominion of the Divine Will that humankind can be saved.  Only through external means may humanity be redeemed. I have only two words for this mentality.

Fuck. That.

Such belief systems may have made sense as a coping mechanism during the brutal, ruthless, savage times when the ancient texts were crafted.  A means of providing comfort to those who regularly confront death, famine, disease, war, starvation.  The ancient world was bafflingly capricious and cruel.  In a world full of suffering that would be unbelievable in most of the modern world, it is utterly unsurprising that religious understandings would seek to justify or ennoble suffering.  It is unsurprising that religious understanding would seek to explain the capricious and savage cruelty of the ancient world by describing us as fallen creatures deserving of suffering.  But we no longer live in that world.  Our world has moved on.  We have moved on.  We have evolved.  Progressed.  Such beliefs are wholly incongruent with the paradise in which we live.

Do you honestly believe you are a bad person? A sinful person? A vile, wretched, fallen creature unworthy of love or salvation? What is your great sin that requires external redemption? What is in your secret heart of darkness that makes you unfit for God's Love? God IS Love, we are told, so what vileness lives in you that makes you so wholly unworthy of God's Grace and Love?

Is it possible that I, a mere human and little more than a monkey, am more capable of Love than God? Afterall, I have loved many many flawed creatures. I love them both in spite of and because of their flaws, their tics, their idiosyncrasies, their weaknesses, their problems. I love them and many of them even accept that I love them. Some of them even love me in return. How is that possible? How is love possible if we are the loathsome beings we are told we are? How is love possible if we are truly the despicable, vile, fallen creatures theists claim?

How is it possible that I, a mere human can love a flawed creature while the being that IS Love cannot? Priests and Clerics will, of course, object, saying that God loves even those who reject him.  He simply cannot or does not not to love them enough to stop himself from condemning them to an ETERNITY in a pit of damnation and torture.  Indeed, as God is theoretically omnipotent, he clearly COULD choose to love them enough to make up for their rejection, he simply will not.  Indeed God must clearly CHOOSE to condemn those who fail to love him sufficiently.  Do theists recognize how silly that kind of thinking is?

Our lives are measured in decades. A few of us are lucky enough to reach the century mark. Is it possible that God, the Creator of the Great All, the Eternal Sovereign over the Entire Universe whose dominion will extend for countless quintillions of years is SO petty and small that He would condemn a human being from some tiny blue planet at the back end of the Cosmos to an ETERNITY of suffering, pain and torture based SOLELY on the fact that they didn't love Him?  Or didn't love Him sufficiently or properly?  Is God so petty and small?

I have cared for a number of women in my life. A few, I have loved deeply and totally. Some of those I loved did not love me back or never loved me to begin with. To be sure, such a thing is heartrending, painful, sad. It results in grief and loss and disappointment. But never in my wildest dreams have I ever wanted to condemn any of the women I've loved to even a moment of TORTURE simply because they didn't love me.  Let alone condemn them to a lifetime or an ETERNITY of despair and wretchedness and pain. To the contrary, I still love those I loved because of what they meant to me during the time we had.

The thought that God, that the Creator of the Great All has less perspective than me, a mere monkey is laughably egocentric.  The thought that God, the Sovereign of the Universe has less perspective than a stalker ex-boyfriend is just pitiful.

As previously discussed, if there is a God, that being is unimaginably vast, unimaginably powerful, unimaginably ancient. That being presumably oversees the workings of the entire Universe, of everything.  Of 400,000,000,000 galaxies, 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars and the innumerable planets and civilizations bathing in their light. Such a being would have had to wait over 13,700,000,000 years before the first human being even drew breach. Is it really plausible to believe that such a being, that has lived for countless BILLIONS of years would be willing to condemn another sentient being to Trillions or Quadrillions or GOOGLE years of damnation based solely on the fact that a petulant monkey didn't LOVE him or didn't accept his love for a couple of DECADES?  Can anyone possibly explain why such a being would even have the slightest interest in judging us based on one of the myriad contradictory and mutually exclusive tracts allegedly containing His will.  Or would be willing to condemn such beings to ETERNAL pain and suffering based solely on our humanity?

A being who would do such a thing is cruel.  A being who would do such a thing is heartless.  A being who would do such a thing is utterly unworthy of worship.

To a being that has existed for BILLIONS of years, our individual lifetimes are utterly inconsequential.  And our alleged crimes, our alleged sinfulness, our alleged impurity even less so.  One would assume that a Just God would want the punishment to fit the crime.  A few decades of rejection cannot possibly warrant even a lifetime of torment, let alone an eternity.
Is it really plausible that the God of Love, could be so filled with smallness, pettiness and jealousy that it would condemn a human for all eternity simply for the crime of exercising the simian brain God supposedly imbued it with?  For engaging in sex?  For masturbation?  For foul language?  For doubt?  For any of the countless other petty infractions set forth in the Abrahamaic texts?

Are we truly so awful?  So vile?  So reprehensible?

Is our civilization truly so wretched?

Of course not.

Human civilization is beautiful.  Human civilization is majestic.  Human civilization is wondrously adaptable, fantastically flexible and relentlessly strives for self-perfection.  Just as individuals strive to better themselves, to better their circumstances, to improve and advance and evolve, human civilization does the same.  And we have succeeded marvelously.  Our world has never been more at peace, never been more filled with plenty, never been filled with more hope and joy and light and love.  We have freed our fellow man from millennia of bondage.  We have recognized equality between race and gender and sexual orientation as a virtue.  We have created a system of justice that strives for equality.  We have created systems of education and science that strive for understanding in all things.  Where the collected knowledge of thousands of years of human development is available at the touch of a button, where we can share thoughts and ideas without boundaries.  We have built wonders that vastly exceed the wildest imaginings of our forebearers and we inhabit a world of peace and light unlike anything that humanity has ever seen before.  And this is just the beginning.

We are far from perfect, but we are far, far, far closer than our ancient ancestors could have ever dreamed.  To be sure, we struggle, we fail, we make bad, sometimes catastrophic decisions, but we endure, we press on, we evolve, and we triumph.  We are not fallen.  We are not wretched.  We are not flawed.  We are not despicable.  We are human.  And we are beautiful.  We are beautiful because in spite of our imperfections, we persevere as individuals, as a civilization, as a people.  And our civilization will continue to adapt, evolve, grow and flourish. 

Humanity does not need external salvation.  We do not require external guidance.  We do not require saving.  Our grace is sufficient for me.

And just as humanity is not a wretched, despicable blight in the aggregate, YOU are not a wretched, despicable, fallen individual.  You do not require salvation.  You do not require saving.  You do not require redemption.  Who you are, what you are, the amazing existence that is each and every one of us is more than enough.  Because even though you are insignificant in a cosmic sense, even though ALL of us are insignificant in a cosmic sense, it does not matter.

We do not need God for redemption, for forgiveness, for salvation, because we have one another.  We have one another to forgive.  We have one another to help us in troubled times.  We have one another to hold and comfort us.  We have one another to share this amazing life with.  Through understanding one another and understanding ourselves, we find meaning far beyond anything the amazing invisible sky wizard could ever offer.

The belief in the inherent evil of humanity is a pervasive and thoroughly debilitating creed. When coupled with the emphasis on the substitution of man's evil will for God's Divine Will, it is among the most disempowering belief systems imaginable.

Religion is uniquely unsuited to leadership precisely because its emphasis and focus is not on solving the present problems that exist in the here and now, but on preparing the soul for whatever it is that allegedly waits for us in the next life.

But the reality is that in all likelihood, nothing waits. Certainly there is no evidence that anything awaits us – only vague narcissistic feelings that something of us must survive. Vain hopes that the unrewarded rights and unpunished wrongs of this life will be righted in the next.  I wish it were otherwise. It would be wonderful to believe that the wicked would pay penance in the next life, that the righteous (however defined) would be rewarded.  But unfortunately, that appears highly unlikely.
Our time on this Earth is limited.  And the prospect of anything to right the wrongs of this life is uncertain at best.  It is therefore our solemn duty as human beings to make sure that everyone we share this planet with has a life filled with as much light and beauty and love and peace as possible.

This is why atheists are uniquely suited for leadership. Why those societies which have the least interest in religion or God ACT in such a moral fashion. Because after looking at the evidence, we recognize intuitively that there will be no reckoning for the wicked in the next life, so we strive to ensure that the wicked are punished in this one. And similarly, Atheists recognize that there will be no justice or reward for those who suffer unjustly in this life. So we must work tirelessly to ensure that this world contains as little pointless suffering as possible. To ensure that EVERY one of us has the longest most fulfilling, most comfortable life possible. Because this is all we have, and nothing is more sad than a life that comes into being and knows nothing but suffering. Such a thing is heartbreaking.  Because there is no light at the end of the tunnel unless other humans provide it. To wait on the justice of the divine in the afterlife, is to wait in vain.

We do not require salvation.  We do not require redemption.  We need not apologize for what we are.  Rejoice in your humanity.  Be proud of what and who you are.  Be proud of what we have accomplished as a species.  And work to ensure that the future is always brighter than the past both for you and for others.

I am an Atheist.  I do not believe in God.  But I believe in us.  I believe in humanity because the entire scope of human history gives me inspiration and makes me proud.  The tale of our species is an epic and monumental testament to the unrelenting power of freedom, hope, love, and understanding overcoming tyranny, oppression, hatred and bigotry.  And while it is impossible to say for sure, I believe that our future is bright.  Brighter than any of us can possibly imagine.

It is said that Atheists lack faith, but I have faith in us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - Ancient Wisdom, Schmancient Wisdom

Humanity is not bad or flawed or evil.  Not as individuals or in the aggregate.  Indeed, our entire history, the entire tapestry of our existence is a testament to the exact opposite conclusion.  Our civilization's very existence is a glorious song to the power of the better angels of human nature.

Consider where we came from.  The ancient texts that most religions rely on were chiseled in rock or inked on papyrus during the very infancy of human thought.  They represent some of the earliest musings of our collective thought.  In many ways, they represent the expression of our basest, most primal, most primitive thoughts, fears and ambitions.  Our collective Id, set in stone.  Those ancient texts were scribed within the brutal cauldron of early human development, during a time when humankind was utterly at the mercy of forces it could scarcely describe, let alone understand.  A time when death and disease and starvation were not abstract concerns, but an everyday reality.

Understand that the world in which our seminal religious texts were forged is one that would be utterly unrecognizable to anyone born in the modern world.  Ask yourself this simple question.  When was the last time you saw a corpse in real life.  A real corpse, and not on television.  Recognize that most people will go through the majority of their lives without ever encountering a dead body.  In the ancient world, death was quite literally everywhere.  Death was entertainment.  Hangings, executions, torture were not something to be reviled and shunned, but were conducted in public for the entertainment of the masses.  The ancient world, the crucible in which our most important religious texts were written was incredibly violent, incredibly brutal and incredibly misogynistic, a world where slavery was laudable, where women were property, where violence and disease and death and starvation formed the tapestry of existence.  It is no small wonder that the moral and civic codes of the ancients are unbearably draconian and harsh by modern standards - the world in which these codes were forged was unbearably unforgiving and unrelenting in its brutal cruelty.

We no longer dwell in that world.  Those fears no longer define us.  Our understanding, our culture, our civilization has evolved.  We have grown.  We have surpassed the greatest ambitions of the ancients and created a civilization that any one of them would have described as heaven itself.  Compared to the brutal hellscape of early humanity, our civilization would truly be one where streets are paved with gold, where light and peace and justice reign.  We have created a society, a civilization that any ancient human would describe as divine.  And yet even our civilization is merely reaching its early adolescence.

Ours is a magical world, one filled with light, where we can travel virtually instantaneously from any place on the globe to any other, where we can access miraculous devices that enable us to share our thoughts with friends, family, the entire world if we wish, where even the poorest have access to foods the kings of old could not have dreamed of, where knowledge and information are as freely available as air.  Compared to the world in which the ancient texts were scribed, our world IS heaven.  Indeed, when one looks at the promises of heaven set out by the alleged prophets, it seems obvious that heaven is not another place - it is another time.  The prophets of old were not talking about some magical sky kingdom out in space, they were visionaries, talking about the future.  They were talking about us.

And even as amazing and marvelous as our civilization is, our civilization has virtually unlimited potential to grow, to mature, to become even greater.

The ancient world is readily analogous to the infancy of a child.  Infants have virtually no understanding of the world around them and even when they develop the vocabulary to describe what they can see and feel, they still lack the tools to describe the mechanics behind what they see, so they invent stories.  Indeed, to children everything is miraculous.  The children I know have plastic dolls with elaborate names who inhabit fantastical worlds.  Their imagination is boundless and enviable. Infants are also remarkably volatile, prone to fits of rage and weeping and joy that are seemingly unrelated to any external stimuli.  Fortunately, infants are also relatively weak and forgetful, so their bouts of rage rarely result in any lasting damage either physically or emotionally.

In much the same way, our early ancestors had virtually no understanding of the world they inhabited.  The world was truly mysterious, and while early humans certainly possessed the intelligence to discern patterns within weather and seasons and the movements of stars, they lacked the tools to discern the mechanics behind any of those phenomena, so like infants with their fertile imaginations, those early humans invented stories, gradually refining them for dramatic effect, all within the crucible of the relentlessly violent struggle for survival.  Is it any wonder that the ancient world was so violent?  Why so much blood was spilled?  When every civilization is struggling for its very survival, conflict over each and every resource is virtually inevitable.  Fortunately for us, the ancients, like infants, lacked the technological sophistication to inflict lasting damage on the human species.

Which is where our own civilization, now in its early adolescence is in a starkly different position from our forebearers.  Unlike the ancients, our civilization, like an adolescent who now has access to the family car (or a gun) now possesses the technological sophistication to actually inflict severe and lasting damage on ourselves.  Fortunately, like an adolescent, we also have developed a more sophisticated understanding of the world around us and of one another so that we are far less prone to random fits of raging infantile tantrums than our predecessors.  To be sure, our global civilization and its constituent civilizations certainly have issues and occasionally, those issues turn violent, but in the last 60 years, our species, horrified by the unparalleled carnage wrought by our last great wars have worked diligently to avoid the occurrence of such an event, recognizing that the consequences of a comparable conflict with modern weapons would almost certainly result in the deaths of not millions, but billions of innocent people.

We no longer live in the world of our ancestors.  And while their musings about the world provide an interesting glimpse into the worldview of long dead civilizations and cultures, we should no longer be constrained by their understanding of morality.  Any more than we are bound by their understanding of the Universe, their understanding of civic duty, their understanding of politics, their understanding of gender and race.  If we wish to move forward, if we wish to progress as a civilization, it is incumbent upon us to develop an ethic, a code, an understanding of morality consistent with the world that is, not the world as it used to be.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - Humanity Doesn't Need Saving Part 2

If humankind really were the species we are often assumed to be, a species motivated purely by greed and spite and avarice and lust and violence, we would never have survived this long.  We would have murdered one another out of greed or pettiness or simple animal cruelty, centuries, perhaps millennia ago.  We certainly would never have constructed vast interconnected communities and nations spanning hundreds of millions or billions of people who spend the vast majority of their lives untroubled by violence or crime or death.

The simple fact is that humankind is not flawed.  We are not evil.  We are not bad.  We are not sinful.  More importantly, neither you nor any of the rest of us are evil.  You are not fundamentally bad.  You are not wicked or depraved or sinful.  And neither is anyone else.  Most importantly, neither you, nor anyone else require external redemption to make our existence worthwhile.  We do not need to justify our existence to an invisible, unknowable force in order to have peace or purpose or direction or meaning in our lives.

Do you make stupid decisions?  Certainly.  Every single one of us makes stupid decisions at different points in our lives.  Do you make choices that are occasionally harmful to yourself or to others?  Almost undoubtedly.  But do your lousy choices and your poor decision making skills make you a sinful person?  A bad person?  A depraved or wicked or evil person?


And believing that you are evil or flawed or bad or sinful, believing that you are somehow innately wrong does absolutely nothing to help you to make better choices or make wiser decisions.  Indeed, the reflexive assumption that you are flawed only serves to rationalize and justify and entrench patterns of poor decision making.  If you begin with the assumption that humankind is fundamentally flawed, that we are a fallen creature, it logically follows that we, both individually and collectively, have little or no power to effect any meaningful change in our existence.  It provides an easy rationalization and a perfect excuse for doing nothing and if there is such a thing as sin in this world, then doing nothing is as close as one can possibly get.

It is nearly impossible to overstate the corrosive effect of believing, that not only you, but all of humankind, is flawed and incapable of even taking steps to improve, let alone working to perfect our existence.  Such a belief encourages complacency.  When this belief in the flawed and fallen nature of humankind is married to a worldview where ultimate peace, prosperity and justice is only achievable through some external, supernatural agency that acts after we are already dead, complacency, inaction and stagnation are practically mandatory.  If you actually believe that at the End of Days the wicked will be punished, the righteous will triumph and good will be victorious for ever and always until the end of time, regardless of what happens here in the real flesh and blood world where all of us actually live, what possible motivation does that provide to actually improve life for everyone in the here and now?  What possible motivation is there to improve your own life circumstances?  The belief that everything will work out after we're dead through some supernatural act of benevolence renders action to improve the lives of the poor, the downtrodden, the destitute and the oppressed utterly irrelevant.  Indeed, depending on the particular 'end times' scenario, it may actually act to impede the coming Glory of the Lord which is not only irrelevant, but sacrilege.

We as a species need to move forward.  We need to progress.  We need to adopt an ethos that does not rely on varying interpretations of an ethical code set forth on varying sheafs of papyrus thousands of years ago.  We need to move on and we need to stop judging ourselves and others based on conflicting, outdated and utterly outmoded codes of morals and ethics that are almost wholly inapplicable to the world in which we live.

This is not to say that ancient wisdom is in any way irrelevant.  Quite the contrary, the text of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and the Talmud actually carry a great deal of timeless human wisdom and virtue that transcends the ages.  Their exhortations to care for the needy and those less fortunate, to treat others as you would seek to be treated, etc., contain the seeds of transcendent human wisdom.  It is critical, however, to recognize that many of the assumptions that undergird those seminal texts are wholly inapplicable to the modern world and have been resoundingly refuted by the relentless reality of human progress.

Consider for a moment, the world in which we live.  Consider the billions of people who currently inhabit our planet.  Consider the simple fact that the vast majority of humankind, life is not locked in a bitter struggle for survival in a Hobbesian war of all against all.  Quite the opposite. In the history of our species, we have never enjoyed a more peaceful time than we are enjoying right now.

I recognize that this runs completely counter to the images of gloom and doom that dominate the mainstream media.  I understand that this conflicts with the longstanding desire of some to see the apocalypse constantly looming just over the horizon, but the simple fact is that our species is presently living in an age of unparalleled peace and plenty.

Consider the wonders of the age in which we live.  For the first time in human history, we possess a truly global civilization.  To be sure, our civilization remains somewhat fragmented by language, culture and geopolitical concerns, yet at the same time, our aggregate civilizations have never been more interconnected, interdependent or united.

Nearly seven billion people inhabit this tiny sphere of ours, vastly more than at any time in human history and far from some manner of ghastly all out war of all against all, the overwhelming mass of humanity lives at peace with the rest.  This in and of itself is evidence of our remarkable evolution as a species and the maturation of humankind as a whole.  Our civilization is truly a thing of immense beauty.

We are the luminous species, the species that glows.  Viewed from orbit, as the sun passes behind the horizon, something remarkable occurs, the entire landmass of our planet begins to glow.  Every night.  Through war, through peace, through famine and drought and all manner of calamity, our light burns on.  There are, on occasion, problems severe enough to disrupt this pattern, but throughout  the last century, the light of civilization has steadily increased through every trial and tribulation our species has faced.  That light in and of itself is an indication that our civilization is not nearly as fragile as some believe.