Atheist, Not by Choice

When folks find out that I’m an atheist, some ask “How can you not believe in God?” My answer is simple.  Because I don’t have proof that there is one. And, I’m not sure which one I should believe in even if i chose the path of believing without proof.

This is kind of a cheap answer in that I don’t believe there really ever can be sufficient proof to warrant a belief in a god or gods.  Unfortunately, “faith is not a true path to truth”, as Matt Dillahunty says and, like him, I prefer to believe as many true things as possible. After all, you can believe anything on faith if you want to.  Take, for example, the belief in Hindu gods versus the Abrahamic god.  Who is to say who is right or wrong when you place all your eggs in the “faith” basket?

I’m not going to get into all of the arguments for or against believing in a god because it’s been done a million times in a million different places, so the point of this post is to just say that I am an atheist and it’s not really my choice.

Science is the only way to measure the real world and, to the best of my knowledge, there is no other way that has proven to be reliable. In time, scientific theories change based on the data, but that’s real data that is observed in the known universe. Since I live in the known universe, I kinda have to go where the evidence takes me. I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know” to the answers of life’s biggest mysteries or create answers of my own where existentialism guides me. Can we ever know what happened before the Big Bang? I don’t know if we can, however, can I know the meaning of life?  Sure, I can.  It’s my life and I can ascribe whatever meaning I want to it.

What about the afterlife?  Do I have an answer for that?  Nope, I don’t. And you may, but it’s not necessarily correct. It may shock you to learn that it doesn’t matter to me, either.  After all, which afterlife is correct? Will I go to hell for being a non-believer?  If so, which one? Is it Naraka or the H-E-double hockey sticks, fire and brimstone, Christian Hell?  Or, maybe I’ll be reincarnated as he Buddhists believe?  No evidence is available for any of them, so the odds are is that someone has to get it wrong.

The other argument is that theists give me is that without a god, where do I get my morality from?  How can I be a moral human being?  Well, I am.  And, I’m not sure why, but I tend to agree with some scientists who believe our morals come from the fact that we are social animals.  We have developed social contracts, implicitly and innately, because it benefits us as a species.  Killing one of our own is counterproductive to species survival.  We simply have to get along to survive.  For the 1% of folks who are psychotic or sociopathic – well, they are an anomaly. All species have them.  That’s what accounts for albinos (not to say albinos are psychotic or bad in any way). Plus, the morality of a god can always be questioned.  The Judeo-Christian Bible has a god who does nothing to dissuade us from slavery and thinks homosexuals should be killed.  As a species, we’ve largely moved past those ideals (although, I have to acknowledge that some of us have not).

When asked about his morality, Penn Jillette – famous magician, libertarian and atheist – has said that he has raped exactly as many people as he has wanted to. None. Zero.  I can say the same and I made that decision without the need to consult a holy book to see if it is right or wrong.  I am sympathetic towards others and, more so, I am empathetic.  I can relate to their pain and suffering as well as their joy and elation.  No god has told me how to do that and it cannot be proven those one has instilled those qualities within me.

Of course, I can blindly agree to worship a god, and I can select which one I want to adore and prostrate myself before.  But, still, not making a choice is a choice in itself.  Most religious folks, and I mean “most” and not “all” don’t make the choice themselves.  Their selection is based on upbringing or geography.  I find it very rare, although possible, that a baby brought up in a Southern Baptist household in Alabama would ever choose to be a Sikh or Jain.  Likewise, I don’t see a child growing up in Calcutta choosing to be a Calvinist. For me, I don’t feel that I really need to make a decision, ultimately, so I am an atheist but not by choice.

 

 

 

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Meditation is not Prayer

meditation

I recently had a nice, civil conversation with a Christian friend of mine and he mentioned that he prays regularly and that he saw no difference between meditation and prayer. As a mindfulness practitioner, I felt I had to correct him, but it got me thinking how many people also believe this?

The conversation began when we were discussing the mass shootings that have plagued the US in the last few years and how I thought that “thoughts and prayers” had become more of a meme than a serious call to action. He disagreed, of course, saying that it is perfectly reasonable to pray for guidance and for the souls of those who were slain unnecessarily.  I disagreed and didn’t do so humbly.

Prayer, by my definition, is an appeal to a supernatural force to intervene.  Oftentimes, prayer is an appeal for some sort of advantage to yourself, like praying for health of a loved one or to win a sports contest.  Even the idea of “praying for strength” to cope with some hardship is a long distance call to a supernatural being from the supplicant. It’s purely a plea to something (or someone) external.

Meditation is different.  To meditate, you are not attempting to garner the attention of some mythical being in order to improve yourself or your situation.  The idea of meditation is to look inward, and to muster your own capacity for overcoming suffering by summoning compassion and equanimity. The goal of meditation is to learn how to be a part of the experiences that transpire around you and to accept that you have a role. You are really reaching deep within to find a way to handle the misfortunes of a chaotic world by being mindful.

What is mindfulness then?  It is simply being present – in the now.  The benefit of that is that you are able to assess the present through fresh eyes by ceasing ruminations of the past and eliminating any compulsion to predict the future.  Let’s face it, we simply have no control over what has happened already and what may or may not happen in the future.  The only thing we can control is what is happening now, specifically how we react to our happenstance, for better or for worse.

Whether you pray or meditate during a crisis, such as a relative or loved one becoming afflicted with a serious illness, neither method will actually cure the sickness.  I think both a pray-er and a meditator know that, although, some televangelists would likely tell you otherwise.  Prayer summons the power of a god and that god can heal all afflictions, they say, but I don’t believe this is what the majority of religious people believe.  The difference would be that there is a sort of hypocrisy about prayer that makes is shallow.  If you believe in a god, you most likely believe that god has a “plan”, that he “works in mysterious ways” and that he “only gives us what we can handle”.  If that’s so, then your god most likely gave your loved one a deadly illness that you are asking him to undo through kneeling down and showing him that you love him (and trust him).  Reversing his decision by healing your loved one would make him either fallible or a sadist. That is a problem for the pious.

Meditators accept their fates and prepare for it by living a life of compassion and understanding.  A meditator would be bedside, recounting memories, reading a book, listening to music or whatever makes their loved one comfortable in the moment.  There would be no thought or expression of pain to come. Even if the moment comes where their loved one dies, the meditator accepts the impermanence of this life and doesn’t mourn for the end of it, but, instead, celebrates the end of suffering.

I can’t think of a better way to deal with life’s twists and turns, to be honest.  I don’t want to worry about what my afterlife will bring since I don’t really have any idea that it actually exists, but I do want to effectively cope with each moment that I know that I am alive – I can see, touch, smell. taste and hear.  I can do good not my wishing for some celestial being to intercede, but by practicing a life of mindfulness, compassion and appreciation of the well-being of myself and others.

Also, when I find the strength to overcome suffering, I kinda want to take credit for it myself.

 

Modern Day Milgram

milgram

In 1961, Yale psychologist, Stanley Milgram, developed an experiment to test how people would react to authority.  In his test, he set up a device that simulated an electric shock that was delivered to people (“learner”) who incorrectly answered questions that were asked by a “teacher”.  The “teacher” was actually the test subject and the person being shocked was an actor who suffered no damage because there was no actual shock.

As the “learner” answered each question incorrectly, the “teacher”would increase the power of the shock.  At 150 volts, the “learner” began to cry out that he had a heart problem and he wasn’t feeling well.  At that point, the test subject had a choice to continue despite the increasing complaints or to stop despite incessant urging from the person leading the experiment who sat right next to them.

An entire 45 minute documentary can be found here. To save you a little time, I’ll tell you that 65% of the “teachers” (26 of 40) went all the way to 450 volts despite the cries of the “learner”.  So, they continued to inflict pain on another human being for the sole reason that an authority figure told them to do so.

Of course, there were a lot of questions about the ethics of this experiment and that the all of the test subjects were white men, but, hey, that was the 1960’s for you. But it does make one ponder the impact of authority over a person and whether or not they will give up their morality, their sense of right and wrong, if they are told to do so.  Obvious connections to Nazi soldiers were made in this experiment which was actually the point to begin with.

In this day and age, are we subject to the same drive – to please an authority figure to the degree that we would shun responsibility for hurting another human being?

In 2006, there was the famous Mount Washington Strip Search scam where a prank caller called a fast food restaurant posing as a police office and convinced a pair of adults to strip search a teenager and then engage in sexual molestation. The adults never even saw the actual person giving them instructions to demean and abuse this underage girl, yet they did it anyway.

Now, expand that a thousand-fold and think to yourself how similar distasteful and potentially illegal acts could be performed by unwilling people if they were commanded by a President or other elected official.  How about if someone like the Pope or some other high-ranking religious official told you to do something you would normally find abhorrent?  Would you toss away your own personal morals and ethics to please that authority figure?

Would you?

Joel Osteen is a Douche

Joel-Osteen-heckled

Ask me why I’m an atheist and I can cite a bunch of reason why, but one of them is because of the snake-oil salesmen like Peter Popoff and Joel Osteen that preach to loving masses who empty their wallets for them.  What the believers get in return is nothing more than stolen wisdom.

With the disaster of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Osteen had the doors to his church closed until there was a public outcry.  He claimed it was flooded, but it seemed a little peculiar to me that he suddenly had a change of heart and let the flooded few into his palace.  His ultimate excuse was that no one asked. Hence, Joel Osteen is a douche.

This is the guy who is quoted as saying:

We need to show mercy. I mean, because as much mercy as you show people, that’s the mercy you’re going to be receiving.

Apparently, mercy needs to be requested by the city of Houston before it is granted.  It’s not enough that a natural disaster that expels people out of their homes, kills loved ones, and destroys the lives of hundreds of thousands that mercy needs to be given.  In Osteen’s view, it needs to be asked for.

He also said “If you give, you will be blessed.”  Apparently, that only applies to the people who dump cash in his pocket and not to him.  Douche.

 

We Are Not a Puddle

puddle

The picture above is of a puddle.  It was formed by the simple act of water, either rain or some other means, of filling in a hole.  See how it fits snugly in the hole?  Well, guess what?  That hole was not created for that puddle any more than the Universe was created for us.

For some who cling to religion, they believe that the Universe was “fine tuned” for human beings and that that fact proves that an Intelligent Designer exists.  Well, I dispute that and state unequivocally that we are just not that important. In fact, human beings have existed for mere seconds in the span of time, so if the Universe was made for us, then we should have come by long, long ago.

You can also drill down further to just the Earth.  If our lovely planet was “designed” just for us, then why is most of it inhospitable to our life form?  Our blue marble is 71% water, in which we cannot survive.  Of the land that remains, we cannot survive extreme heat or cold.  So, deserts and the poles are off-limits.

What about space?  In our solar system alone, only one planet has human life.  All the others are either too hot or too cold, and none of them have the atmosphere we need to survive.  We just could not breathe.  Breathing is, um, necessary.

Outside of our solar system, we have discovered around 3500 planets, none of which we can even get to quite yet.  And, of those 3500, it is estimated that only around 30 of them are ones that we are optimistic about when it comes to supporting human life.

So, how “fine tuned” is this Universe for us, really?

 

I’m an Atheist and So Are You

Atheism

(Graphic courtesy of sickchirpse.com)

For those of you who know me, you know I am an atheist.  I simply do not believe in a god or gods.  That’s essentially what an atheist is, but some folks think it’s much more and I just want to take a few moments to clear things up for you.

Theism is the claim that a god exists – it can be the Christian god, the Jewish god, the Islamic god, the Hindu gods, the Norse gods, whatever.  Atheism is not a claim that none of these gods exist, it is merely the rejection that they do based on the evidence. Atheism, by and large, makes no claims at all and, in fact, many atheists will say that they would believe in a deity if sufficient evidence was presented to them.  It’s not an epistemological (knowledge) claim like agnosticism which states that someone doesn’t know if a god exists or that it can never truly be known if a god exists. There’s a big difference there.

Picture a closed pantry door.  Some dude comes up to you and says that the pantry is stocked with Double Stuff Oreos.  The atheist says “I don’t believe you. Show me the evidence” while the agnostic says “The door is locked, so we’ll never know and I’m frankly not sure.”  The theist would say “I don’t need to open the door; I’ll just have faith.”  To confuse you, the agnostic atheist would say, “I don’t think we’ll ever know if there are Oreos in there and, quite frankly, I don’t believe there are based on the evidence you provided, dude.” See the difference?

Everyone, at some point, fits into one of those categories at one time or another.  Christians believe in their god, but they do not believe in the Hindu gods.  That makes them atheists in that respect. You will hear famous atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins elaborate on this argument simply by saying that we are all atheists, except I believe in one less god than you do.

So, you may only be one step away.

 

 

Water is Life!

miraclewater

If you weren’t aware, an adult body is made up of about 60% water.  We are told to drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (sometimes more) to replenish our bodies so we do not dehydrate, especially in hot weather or after heavy activity.  One estimate is that we drink 200 billion bottles of water globally per year.

Water also makes up about 70% of the Earth’s surface. Ironically, this makes the majority of the planet inhospitable for us, but it serves other purposes that we are reliant on – such as rain.  I’m not going to go through the whole process as to how that happens, so you’ll just have to trust me.

The bottom line is we need water.  And we need it clean.  But, this is not a post about the Trump administrations efforts to kill us through ignoring climate change. This post is about an asshole named Peter Popoff who actively sells “miracle water” that, after imbibing, can heal you, send you money, get you a job and find you a love match – so this douchebag claims.

I’m torn on who to blame for this.  On one hand, I think that Popoff should be flogged.  Maybe, even have his nuts removed for being such a low-life scumbag who preys on the weak-minded.  On the other hand, I want to slap the shit out of the people who try this stuff and actually believe it works.  It’s fucking water.

These people, Popoff and his idiot followers, are allowed to vote.  They are allowed to hold jobs, maybe even teach your children.  They can’t be trusted to take their own lives seriously, so how can they be trusted to be out in the world and affect others?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  Everyone has a right to be a moron and I shouldn’t be an elitist.  Well, fuck that.  If you are being stupid, I have just as much of a right to let you know as you are to be so.

Don’t be a moron.