Monthly Archives: May 2014

Belief does not create two religions

Early in the morning, before anyone else is awake, before the birds are even stirring, I walk down to the edge of the stream behind my house. I kneel down and call to my water nymph. She answers.

Not everyone can see her. Not everyone believes I see her. But I worship her. I promise her that I will love and revere her above all others, above my parents, my spouse, my children, myself. I request her help, ask her to carry out acts of mischief on others. Find money and treasure for me. Help me attain my goals. She bends to my will. She exists through me, for me.

Those who don’t believe in my water nymph are a-nymphs. (Not to be confused with nymphos.) Their a-nymphism is a belief system, too, which, through contrast, helps validate my conviction.

This idea of belief and unbelief in nymphs is a little ridiculous, yes? Yet you and I often hear that atheism is a belief system or a religion.

No. It. Is. Not. Refusing to accept an outrageous story or idea as truth or true does not make our skepticism or doubt a “belief.”

No matter our religious affiliation or lack of, we all sift through and oftentimes reject what others believe. Here are some examples, which many of our grandparents believed and we now simply reject (we don’t become a-believers):

1. It’s bad luck to open an umbrella inside.
2. If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck.
3. Rubbing a wart with a bean pod, and then burying the pod, will get rid of a wart.
4. High heart rates mean that your fetus is female.
5. Shaving makes your hair grow back thicker.
6. If you swallow chewing gum, it remains in your stomach for 7 years.
7. If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold.

There was a time when it made sense to believe in these things. For example, before people understood that colds came from viruses, not from being “cold.” Now that we know better, we reject this belief our grandparents held, or we just consider it an “old wives tale.”

Many Christian apologists will insist that atheism is a “belief system” or a religion, too. This is simply an attempt to equalize the two, to bring unbelief on the opposite side of the equation from religion, which is a belief system. If, believers postulate, both sides are “beliefs” and if one is free to choose from two separate–but seemingly equal–systems, then it standardizes religion. Religion is now logical like math and science. Science and math now require a leap of faith. Belief and unbelief are simply one of two choices that any reasonable person can make.

No. No. No.

It is not logical to believe that breaking a mirror will bring you bad luck. It is not logical to believe in my water nymph, even if I tell you that your unbelief is a belief, too.

But what if all my neighbors and relatives say that they believe my story? What if I show you a book that I found, telling of the nymph’s fantastical journey from Planet Ooh? What if I tell you that everything I’ve asked my water nymph for has materialized?

Correlation, we know, does not imply causation. An observation of two variables does not mean that one causes the other or that they’re related.

There’s one more thing we need to address to put the nail in the coffin of atheism as religion or belief system.

Belief.

Yeah. I believe in science. But that is different from saying, “I believe in god.”

“I believe in science” means that I put faith in the people and institutions that are doing the work, that I have confidence in their methods. I could do the math or science my damn self, if I had the time. But you and I cannot specialize in everything. We cannot do all things. So we must trust that others are doing their jobs, the same jobs that we could do, using the same methods that we were all taught and have agreed are worthy of our trust and confidence. These things are provable and repeatable and verifiable across the scientific community.

“I believe in god,” as many philosophers have noted, is an existential claim that is made when the thing believed is unrealistic, unproven or highly unlikely. I believe that eating more burgers before conceiving will produce a boy baby. I believe that kissing a frog will produce a prince. I believe in the tooth fairy. Vampires. Leprechauns. Water nymphs. God.

So, no. Atheism and science are not beliefs or religions. And, yes. Belief in a deity or deities requires a leap of faith and is therefore not based in logic. If it were logical, we could all plug god into the equation and prove his or her existence. If it were logical, we could confirm the existence of god and heaven. We would not hear people say, “I know it doesn’t make sense, but I just believe. I just feel in my heart that god is real.” This is neither evidence nor grounds for a sound argument.

If believers are being intellectually honest, this is something they already know. Unfortunately, the idea of atheism as religion has been repeated so often that I now hear other unbelievers accept this as true. Don’t get pulled into accepting this mistaken notion that atheism is just another belief, another card in the deck of theism.

One person’s belief cannot create two religions.

Can the GOP survive without acknowledging God?

That’s a question asked in a newsletter I received. I suppose “The LINK” was mailed to my house because the sender assumes every Texan is a god-fearing, gun-toting Stepford Republican.

I learned that it’s my “God-given right” to carry the LINK letter into the polling booth so that I’ll know who to vote for, and I won’t even have to think. (Especially good for women, no doubt.) “We have NEVER supported a Democrat,” the publisher says. And I have to wonder, if you’ve never supported a Democrat, if you vote exactly as someone has told you, then you’re not really thinking for yourself, are you? You’re just buying into and reinforcing stereotypes.

This newsletter gives insights into how these folks think. And it’s pretty scary. Here’s a quote:

The gays are becoming the new “in” group. They say you and I are bigoted, racist, hateful homophobes if we speak out against the harmful lifestyle.

Not sure who “they” is, but I didn’t actually say that. However, I believe people speak the truth about themselves. So yes, I agree that this brand of conservatism is indeed bigoted, racist and homophobic. (Read Rachael’s great post about hatefulness.) Exactly who is suffering from this “harmful lifestyle”? The new “in” group? Really? If “gay is in” who is out?

Texas is the last stand for conservative values in America.

In other words, while the rest of the nation has grown more tolerant, a number of Texans–at least the ones with deep pockets and a soapbox–hold stubbornly to the belief that every person must be the same in color, religion, sexual orientation and political preference. (Yes, every person pictured in this glossy, 16-page newsletter is white.)

I’d like to say that it’s just religion that makes people bad, but like guns, religion is merely a weapon. It’s used to attack anyone standing outside the circle of power who might be a threat: “single” women, minorities, gays and people who’ve been marginalized. No, the GOP cannot survive as a “national force” without God because he’s the club wielded on anyone who doesn’t fit their narrow view of what is “right.” God told these folks that marriage is between one man and one woman. He puts babies into the bellies of female humans (not any other animal).  And he doesn’t want immigrants in America taking our jobs.

The rest of us have to stand up against these bullies. We can’t allow a handful of loud obnoxious yahoos work their way into our government with the intention of legislating who others love and what they do with their bodies.

So I am taking my LINK letter to the poll next week, and I’m voting against any candidate or incumbent who stands for intolerance and bigotry.

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On another note — for those of you who’ve asked about interviews, I had a great one a few nights ago with some funny atheists from the DFW area. (Yes! There’s more in Texas.) Check out the interview, as well as their other podcasts. (Just a warning, however. They’re fond of profanity!)

Forgiveness is Over-Rated

One of the disturbing aspects of Christianity is that babies are born sinners and need forgiveness right out of the chute. In the eyes of God, the innocent child requires and receives the same forgiveness and pardons as the jailhouse convert. Yet there is no sense of justice if a newborn and murderer can both reach heaven through God’s unconditional absolution, if forgiveness is doled out like little uniform candies in a Pez dispenser, no matter the crime or offense.

It seems to me that the Christian God and his followers exercise poor judgment in forgiving people this way. Indeed I do not think our children should forgive everyone of everything because it encourages them to be doormats and victims. Preachers who counsel battered wives to forgive and endure abusive marriages are not magnanimous Christians but are perpetrators, too, just like the abusers.

Perhaps it is better to teach our children that, when people show us who they are with their words and actions, we should listen. They are telling us what makes them tick, and it’s not personal. If a person causes us harm or hurls insults (Donald Sterling), it stems from a flaw or an insecurity within him or her. If necessary, retribution for crimes or hurts are made through fines, confinement and estrangement.

This idea guides my life. When someone has treated me or others badly, when I see that a person is abusive or unkind, I choose not to have a relationship with him or her. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been reciprocally unkind. On the contrary, I believe in being cordial and keeping the peace. But I do not have to share my time or resources or foster a relationship with anyone—relative, stranger, coworker or neighbor—who would bring dysfunction or cause harm to me or my family.  

I try to live so that I don’t need to give or receive forgiveness from myself or anyone else. There is peace this way. There is no anger, no sense of victimization, no need for revenge. It is simply making choices to do the right thing and to surround myself with people who bring no harm or deception. Sure, we all hurt each other sometimes, but small, occasional hurts can be tolerated and fixed.

What does forgiveness mean to you?

 

GUEST POST: Public displays of religion: Why history tells us ‘It’s just a phase.’

I am delighted to have a guest post by a reader on the east coast. Robert Partridge has an interesting perspective on religion and politics. I hope his unique insights spark an interesting discussion! Thanks for sharing, Rob!

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Public displays of religion: Why history tells us ‘It’s just a phase.’
By Robert Partridge – guest blogger (robpartridge@msn.com) May 8, 2014

In the re-energized debate regarding religion’s appropriate public role, as well as the Separation of Church and State, one need not be a religious or historical scholar to recognize what is going on but, to borrow from the old quip, “It helps.”

To begin this review it is important to note that at no time in the history of these United States did such lofty issues enjoy a consensus among the population – not even before the nation was formally established. Research which barely scratches the surface will reveal sources describing the Founders’ motivations as being driven by Colonial nationalism and financial self-interest, as often as suggesting they were driven by religious spirit or a belief in Divine intervention. An abundance of evidence exists indicating that those who left Europe to escape religious persecution – especially the Quakers – placed a high priority on the importance of not persecuting others, and not forcing their religious beliefs on the rest of society. Except for the French in Quebec and the Spanish in Florida, an institution as far-reaching as the Catholic Church did not have significant impact on the development of attitudes and laws in the United States until the major migrations to the U.S. of Germans, Irish, Italians and Poles took place from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.

Would you agree that concepts such as “In God We Trust” on coinage or “One Nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are as enduring as the nation itself? Spoiler alert: that would be an improper assertion.

“In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and the relevance of that date is critical. The Civil War was about to enter its fourth year, seemingly with no end in sight, and the desperate hope that God would favor one side over the other was an increasingly prevalent position of both the Union and the Confederacy. As for the Pledge of Allegiance, it was in 1954 with the global Communist threat at its height that President Dwight Eisenhower directed Congress to explore adding the words “under God,” modifying the existing pledge into the form that is recited today.

Have you spotted a trend? In each case, as an appeal to the Christian Supreme Being was made, threats to the existence of the nation were actually in play or perceived as quite real. The same is revealed in examples of the Founders drawing on the support of Providence in their quest to attain independence. Dr. Benjamin Franklin, not a particularly religious individual himself, nonetheless underscored the tensions and potential consequences of the time in his famous statement following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Such life or death moments have tended to push societies toward their closest orbits with religion.

And so we have come full circle to the topic at hand. Why is the highly-visible reemergence of religion in public life being promoted by lawmakers, judges, political pundits and even some journalists, many of whom proclaim a fear for the very survival of our country at this particular moment? Let there be little uncertainty about the catalysts. The same perceptions of vulnerability and risk to our nation that were present during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s are once again taking hold.

Recent historical events such as the Iranian Revolution of 1977 and hostage-taking at the Tehran U.S. Embassy in 1979, bombings at the hands of Islamic radicals of U.S. troop barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the Gulf War of 1991 in reaction to Saddam Hussein’s assault on Kuwait all helped disturb the American sense of balance in the world. The 9/11 attacks, followed by the invasion to rid Afghanistan of al Qaida and the Taliban (and the Weapons of Mass Destruction debacle that led to the second Iraq War in 2003) dramatically added to that sense of imbalance and furthered the ongoing military-religious conflict which underlies the real cause of our nation’s actions; Fear.

That is not fear defined in the cowardly sense. It is the fear generated in Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature, when one entity senses it is cornered and left with no options. The human reaction to that fear is and has been predictable since the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans: a preparation for and engagement in conflict, hand-in-hand with petitions to God (or to ‘the gods’, as was the case 2,500 years ago.)

Please do not compose angry letters accusing me of questioning the depth or sincerity of anyone’s faith. That is not at issue here and my intent is to insult no one. This piece serves merely to provide the historical perspective as to why societies and governments will always respond to collective anxiety by attempting to amplify public religious practices and symbolism.

So, for those who identify themselves as non-believers, do not wonder or worry about our neighbors’ increasingly aggressive and noisy position on public displays of religion. It’s mostly just fear at work – once again.

Holland or Netherlands

Holland or Netherlands.

A lot of people refer to the Netherlands as Holland, however this is incorrect. The only part of the Netherlands that can be referred to as Holland are the provinces North Holland and South Holland. It would be same as referring to the USA as Texas or New York. The reason for this confusion stems from the past when the these two provinces operated as one sovereign part and most trading from the area was done from there. If shippers and employees were overseas they would always say they came from Holland… apparently this still sticks today.

I hope this gives you guys a little bit more insight in why and how this came to be. So from now on use the Netherlands instead of Holland… The Dutch will like you for it.

A Prayer From A Reader

I am always delighted to hear from readers. It’s good to know that there others out there like us, others who understand and who share similar struggles. 

As many of you know, today is National Day of Prayer.  The following “prayer” was sent to me by a reader, who has asked me to post this anonymously. You see, even though this is a day designated to express our (mis)understanding that this country was “birthed in prayer and reverence for god,” people like us still have to remain in the shadows out of concern that coming out might affect our relationships with friends, family and coworkers. Where is the freedom in that?

To the reader who shared this, thank you for these beautiful insights:

In honor of National Prayer Day, I pray for people to stop praying for god to solve their problems for them.  (Because it would take divine intervention to stop prayer.)

If it were up to me (If I were god), I’d want people to stop asking me to solve their problems for them. I’d want them to become responsible adults, solving their problems by drawing up on their knowledge, experience, and the help of other responsible adults. I’d want them to learn to face the world, their life, their problems, with courage and integrity. I’d want them to realize how pointless it is to petition me, as I never intervene on request. If I wanted anything to be different, it would be, independent of being asked. I wouldn’t care how many, or few, people believed in me. I’d want them to focus on creating a better world for everybody, regardless of their beliefs (or lack thereof). I wouldn’t want them to spend their time praising me.

I’d want them to spend it helping those less fortunate. And to show them the way, I’d create atheists.