Archive for the ‘ Religion ’ Category

On The Meaning Of Life

There is much to be said and much that has been said about the meaning of life. When you peel back all the layers you are left with the primordial combination of eat, drink, reproduce, breath, sleep, and repeat… not necessarily in that order. I think that you’ll find this is the basic life plan for all forms of life on this planet if you allow for some loose definitions of each directive.

The really good question to ask next is what happens when we are trying to accomplish these seemingly simple tasks?

Again, I feel that the rules are fairly simple or can be stated so:

  1. Acquire a foe
  2. Study the foe and find a weakness
  3. Use that weakness to destroy the foe

This is true where foe is one of:

  • something or someone that has what you need or want
  • something or someone that wants or needs what you have
  • something or someone that would prevent you from acquiring the thing(s) that you want or need

Clearly step 1 is easy to do as it can be done without any effort on your part at all. Step 2 is a bit trickier but evolution made cats fast so they could exploit a weakness in gazelles etc. Some species will evolve to exploit a weakness, though this is not a directed action. All predators find and exploit weakness in their prey. Now when it comes to step 3 things get a bit different. If we define ‘destroy’ as genocide it’s not really workable but if we define it as destroy until the foe is not capable of being a foe it becomes more realistic. When our need stops the foe is no longer a foe and so it goes.

There is  nothing unique to any given species in this… it’s a basic plan.

Greed is not part of the basic plan and this is seemingly unique to the hairless ape species called homo sapiens. A misnomer if ever there was one.

Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man“) is the scientific name for the human species. Homo is the human genus, which also includes Neanderthals and many other extinct species of hominid; H. sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo. Modern humans are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, which differentiates them from what has been argued to be their direct ancestor, Homo sapiens idaltu.

Most of our philosophies do not advise material wealth as the meaning of life. This basic nature plan does not advise it. Greed is a disease or something like that. A defect of the human brain.

This Made Me Cry…

Laughing….

 

 

Dear Mr Putin,

Please learn what the word decorum means to most of the rest of the world.

We don’t care about your religion. We want to see sports. If your little country can’t handle it… well, no point in letting you host the games now is there?

YoYo Ma-ma’s So Phat…

I just couldn’t resist that. This is the only post I’ve made in direct note of the wonderful and inspiring musician Yo Yo Ma. So it is that I’ll start with his conclusion or at least that written in this HuffPo piece.

WE ARE MORE THAN WE CAN MEASURE

We live in such a measuring society, people tend to put a person in a box they can put on their mental shelf. People think of me as a cellist because they can see my performances and take my measure as a musician. I think of my life as a musician as only the tip of an iceberg. That is only the audible part of my existence. Underneath the water is the life I’m leading, the thoughts I’m thinking and the emotions that well up in me.

We all get into trouble if we think the universe only exists of the matter that we can see and measure, and not the anti-matter that is the counterpart that holds it all together.

Michelangelo famously said, “I liberate the statue from the marble.” Similarly, my music emerges from the life all around me and the world we all share together. One is the condition of the other.

I’m not getting all pedantic on Yoyo, but I believe that the quote he wanted from Michelangelo was:

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

This version is much more revealing in that it explains that he looks at the marble chunk and sees inside of it’s confines an object that others do not. This is quite different than simply saying an object is trapped inside it as the latter implies that if only we chip away at the edges any of us would see the object inside.

Michelangelo’s Tomb

For Michelangelo to see the apparition in the stone he had to have modelled it in his mind… so that only his eyes could see the apparition till he set it free. This is what Yoyo is talking about. His imagination comes from the world around us as that is the extent of experience, he simply sees it through the filter of his own simulator/mind. Both he and Michelangelo were simply “releasing the beast within” by showing the rest of us what they see in their simulator. This act of sharing what only we can create in our simulators is to change the world around us, at least for those who witness the ‘beast’ we share.

The mechanics of how our brain simulator sees what it does is not the point here, but that our imagination comes from the rules and execution of the rules within our simulation of the world. Until we “release the beast” within the simulation in our brains it is not part of shared experience… it is not alive. When we share it, we give it life and in doing so it may gain practical immortality… after all, it’s really hard to kill a good idea. I say ‘beast’ because what lay trapped in the minds of some is exactly that – a beast. Many of us have very tame beasts, but this is not universally so.

What beast lies within the confines of your mind?

 

Shooting Sacred Cows

Shooting sacred cows is not a habit, but lately I’m finding some things objectionable and I want to voice the discomfort that it causes me.

Shooting Sacred Cows?

One of my recent posts was about the harm that well intentioned but poorly based advice does, specifically when that advice suggests prayer as a course of action and no other.

Well, not without cause, I’ve had reason to study the 12 steps of AA program. I

Before I start this I’ll say that if AA or similar worked for you, congratulations. This is not about you, nor your recovery or in any way a statement about you or others who suffer. It must be said that critiquing medical procedures does not make any comment on the ill who received them.

These are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:[10]

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is irritating in a way that sand in your swim suit could never be. The very first step is to tell yourself and others that you are powerless, out of control, unable to manage your own life. It is a negative statement which has many repercussions over time. If you thought you were dependent on a ‘substance’ then just wait till you have told yourself this little diddy every day, every hour, for several years. Any lie can have the strength of truth if you just believe it.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The next self defeating step is to convince yourself that something else has the power that you do not have. I’m told that some are suggesting that your higher power might be nothing more than a jug of milk. Clearly a jug of milk has no power over your life and you actually do, certainly more than a jug of milk does. Aside from this misconception the word sanity is not really defined well here. The dictionary says: the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health. This reinforces the thought that your previous behavior was insane, not mentally sound. Generally, those with mental health issues are urged to seek proper counselling. If you are not lacking sanity repeating this to yourself daily will help convince you that you are not sane. Restore has the ring of cure to it but that is not what is meant – it actually means get  you addicted to group therapy so that you feel comfortable pretending to be rational and normal.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Here it is, you can be ‘restored’ to rational thinking by believing in a myth. To get through the program you have to not only say you believe but dedicate yourself to believing it. Without that belief in a higher power with more power over your life than you have, you will presumably remain mentally ill. Let’s compare this to Abrahamic monotheism:

  1. You are born a sinner and will burn in hell if you do not believe in god.
  2. You believe that there is an afterlife and god might let you in.
  3. Dedicate yourself to following god’s rules for entrance to heaven.

Both are nearly identical. This is important to understand as we move on to the other steps.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is called being honest with yourself. The implication is that if you have been honest with yourself, you would not have succumb to reliance on substances. Think that through. Think about all those ‘personalities’ who went to rehab. Also note that one need not be honest with themselves to be completely sober, nor does being dishonest with yourself endanger you with addiction. They do seem to go hand in hand a lot.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This meant to keep you from going into denial about what you feel is morally wrong about yourself. Again, morality is not well defined but the program does call for belief in a magic being.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change. This step requires that you not only believe in a god, but that this god can cure your mental instability. This kind of wishful thinking is generally called prayer. There are many reasons that can be shown as to why prayer is simply not going to work – not with the logic of your ‘understanding’ of a god or higher power. Remember that milk jug? Read this next sentence a couple of times. You have to be entirely ready for a milk jug to make you mentally stable and remove all your character defects.  Is that like being entirely ready for lunch? Is it like being entirely ready to retire?

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Whatever it means, the next step is to ask the milk jug to remove your mental instabilities and character defects. If you’re keeping score, 6 of the first 7 steps involve god or a milk jug… and the negative reinforcement of your mind/will to encourage you to believe that you are broken, worthless, incapable of doing good on your own. There is not one thing positive about all this so far other than being honest with yourself. Both monotheism and AA fail to positiviely support anything but themselves.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Again, this is what most people call normal only you do it as you go along rather than save it up for a special time some years in the future. Step eight is one of those to-do lists you want to take care of before you get more than one item on the list… every time. Again, you don’t have to be a drunk or alcoholic to mess up this normal part of life. Some people are just ass-holes.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Here is some more normal stuff. At least this is my understanding of what normal people do. By normal I mean your average kind of person rather than some Miers Briggs score.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

For the big reveal we finally get there… pray and meditate, work to be closer to god and his plan because we are incapable of running our own lives. We ‘re broken and hopeless without someone imaginary to do what we cannot.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What monotheistic religion is complete without proselytizing? Here it is then, stay in the group, preach, get converts.

If you were keeping count 8 of the 12 are all about brainwashing yourself into the cult and keeping you there under the guise of helping you be a better person. Ask yourself why they can’t help you be a better person by encouraging positive change with positive thinking? Why is the only redemption to come from an invisible person that is not you?

Both AA and monotheism are cults of a kind. Membership requires you do the psychological lobotomy on yourself. Once you’re a member it’s okay if you stumble through life but if you leave it means your imminent doom, and often enough leads to isolation from the group members.

Both cults have their own language to ‘assist’ which further isolates, as do their traditions and so forth. While you might argue with me that AA isn’t really like that I’ll ask again: why is the cure just negative reinforcement of negative self image, cult behavior, and belief in a magic invisible being to ‘cure’ you or make you whole?

AA has yet to be shown to be more efficacious than simply deciding you don’t want to get drunk anymore. Monotheism has most decidedly not shown that membership in the cult makes you moral or good. Both cults will forgive members who screw up as long as they stay in the cult and continue the traditions.

Yes, I do know there are some differences but the principles are similar enough to toss them both in the same trash can.
They both crush self esteem and inhibit personal growth outside of the cult by creating the idea that we are worthless.

Sure, I can hear someone asking ‘well, how would you do it different?’ but that is for another post.

Talking About Theism … On The Edge

or, Think Like A Believer is perhaps a better title? You decide. Actually I’ll have a go at the atheism/theism issue from a side angle. It’s one of my favorites: how do we think and what is thought.

I found a post from a presumed Christian believer which illustrates what I want to say in this post. In the mode of trying to understand the theist discussion by asking questions I run into a small problem: what were they thinking? I also try to understand how all of us think. Theism is not a disease or even a brain malady. We all have the same brains so when I changed from evangelical to atheist it was not a case of my brain changing nor a case of me finding a cure. Something changed, this much is certain…. but what was it that changed? Maybe we can figure this out by examining the reasoning and thoughts that theists use in rationalizing and supporting their beliefs. I’m going to try to do this more often.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I write about my theory of how we think, how our minds work and have a profound interest in consciousness. In this post I’m going to take my theory and apply it to the post I found so we can see how the ‘same’ brain can arrive at vastly different ideas and how this does not require atheists and theists to have different brains or health.

The post in question is called Sin is Enacted Atheism by The Orthosphere. I’m choosing which portions of the post to include here and may reformat it slightly. To see the original, click the link. I urge you to think about what the writer of the post might be thinking, how we are not generally lying to ourselves on purpose, and finally that we do all try to solve the puzzles we find in life for the most part.

This is not going to be a quick post, so go run and get a beverage… or three

Sin is Enacted Atheism

I have thought for some time now that there is a direct relation between unbelief and sinfulness, and that *it runs both ways.* Thinking about God can be extremely hard when I feel really bad about how sinful I’ve been. When I’ve done something wrong, or want to, I want to avoid thinking about God. Because if I do, I shall see what a disgusting worm I am. And no one wants to face that.

The post starts out with contemplation of guilt. Guilt is when we know we’ve broken one of the rules about life that we think we should not break. You can break the civil law and not feel guilty. Guilt only happens when you believe you should not have done the thing which you now feel guilty about. It is wholly subjective. Being subjective, the rule you broke was part of a plan to achieve a goal you have set for yourself or in some way subscribed to. Subjective rules are not arbitrary from the perspective of self. What we are talking about here is the reaction to breaking a certain kind of rule which (the writer in this case) person has set for themselves based on some beliefs and truths and experience. It is not a simple rule like fire is hot or the Sun is bright. It is not universally agreeable as a rule, it is subjective in nature by the very nature that it can cause guilt as a reaction. This kind of rule can be one such as we make each January first. Importantly this is not a whim but something the writer has put a lot of time into thinking about. What is thought? What is thinking?

It’s easy to see why shame would make me want to avoid God when I have sinned. The hardest thing of all to admit in our hearts about God is that because his beauty is infinite, even our worst sins are to him infinitely tiny. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we admit the fact to ourselves, his overwhelming power washes over our sins the way that a great wave washes over the filth a fly has left in the sand of the beach. So, no matter how bad we have been, we can turn to him and he will wash over us, cleanse and refresh us completely.

That sounds like a good thing but it turns out to be one of the most effective reinforcements of the original arbitrary rule. In this case the arbitrary rule(s) were established in order to achieve a goal – that of getting into heaven and not going to hell. The only way to get absolution for the guilt is to renew your vow to the original goal… not through prescribed public scapegoating or admission but through private commission of your thoughts. This regenerative feedback loop happens entirely within the mind of the adherent. No external input is necessary as demonstrated in this post. Note that the absolution of guilt does not modify behaviors nor adjust thought. It only reinforces the original goals and rules.

But this is hard to remember, or understand. Indeed, it is hard to remember *because* it is hard to understand. Our sins loom large in our lives, and we understand the harm we have done – and the cost of its repair – quite well. Infinity being by contrast impossible for us to comprehend, we have a hard time doing the moral accounting involved in reconciling God’s omnipotent redemptive power to our picayune peccadilloes. It’s like expressing inches in light years, or vice versa. Light years just don’t mean anything concretely commensurable to our lives as lived, compared to the distance between two joints of a finger. So, all we can see is the sin, and the penalty thereof; we cannot see the everlasting life beyond its redemption. And so we avoid turning our minds in its direction, or toward God and the agony of his glory.

Sometimes apologists say stuff that just takes way to long to figure out the meaning of. This paragraph above is one of those. The notion that infinity is impossible for us to comprehend begs the question… what then does infinity mean? Oh, I see, we actually do comprehend it. I think this is a case of trying to say that when it comes to our guilt we can’t see the forest for the trees. In this case the writer seems to be of the mind that when they feel guilty for their ‘sins’ they think themselves unworthy of their god’s redemption.. I think that is the definition of guilty actually… correct me if I’m wrong. What is the writer doing here with thought? There is the effect of harm and guilt due to the sinful cause. Then a statement on the nature of god, infinite redemptive power… god will forgive anything. This is a rule in the mind of the writer that they are reinforcing with this statement. Like taking the Sun for granted and stating we forget the great benefit it brings us. Next another couple of rules: if you sin you burn forever. This rule is not questioned but taken as fact to the writer.

When we believe in something, we conform ourselves thereto. It shapes our minds, our thoughts and attitudes, and so our acts, and our lives. Because he has a hard time even thinking about God, the sinner, then, has a hard time really believing in God. His shame disinclines him to God; his disinclination to God inclines him to sin; his sin is shameful. It’s a vicious cycle.

Because the sinner is guilty and can’t think of god, it’s hard to believe in a god. What is described is not a cycle, but a spiral downward (if I understand the thinking) toward godless sinning and shame and guilt. Now, let’s think about this. Guilt for breaking a rule makes it difficult to feel good about the rule. If your new year’s resolution is to exercise more, when you skip the gym do you then excuse yourself and feel good about your resolution? I opine that the answer is no, but you will tell yourself that it will be okay because you’ll go to the gym tomorrow and all will be okay again. Do you see what’s going on here? Theists have built-in behavior justifications. The rule only applies when they want it to and they can justify breaking the rule when needed. This, as therapists will tell you, is exactly how to fail at a resolution for change. There is no behavior modification, only reaffirmation of the rules and goals. The thoughts here are that ‘you are what you think you are’ and in the mind of the writer when they are not thinking of god their life is not godly and their actions and thoughts remain sinful. This is a cause and effect rule in the writer’s mind. What we’re seeing is the rules used in the writer’s mind to reason out a cause/effect puzzle.

But it works the other way, too: the unbeliever is eo ipso a sinner. Indeed, unbelief and sin are two sides of the same coin. For, as sin is enacted falsehood, so is it an explicit enaction of disbelief in the God who is all truth, and the whole of truth. It indicates a want of faith; for, if I really believed in God, and understood him, how could I bring myself to sin – indeed, how could the notion even occur to me? Doesn’t the presence of God in our hearts drive out sin? So, if I am sinning, doesn’t that mean that I have not very much God in my heart?

Right, so sinning is to be godless and to be godless is to sin. So every sin causes a do-over, start from the beginning kind of thing. This kind of thinking only serves to reinforce the original thought. Whatever sin you commit brings guilt which in turn reinforces the thought that it was a sin (wrong) in the first place… only this is worse because it is here described as a denial of the rules that the believer has accepted as true. This thinking brings the writer to conclusions: sin and unbelief are two labels/aspects/properties of each other. This association of properties between object/actions in the writer’s mind is important to note.

If my understanding of God is correct, if I really understand what “God” means – not as a philosophical proposition, so much as a concrete proposal for how I should constitute myself from one moment to the next, what I should consider, think, say and do – then won’t the beauty and power of that knowledge drive out all competing considerations? God is *infinitely* beautiful. Nothing else even registers, compared to him. If I really turned and accepted even that bare notion, how could I sin? If I do sin, then, this means that there is at least some corner of my heart that does not believe in God. It resists him, or else is deeply confused.

Note here that the belief is reinforced also by the unproven fact that the god is infinitely beautiful, yet we cannot comprehend infinity says the writer. So, the rule (stipulated by belief in a god and accepted as true without evidence) gets broken. The writer concludes that this causes guilt/shame which precludes the rule breaker who then is unable to ‘get over it’, yet the writer urges us to do just that by accepting the god (and the rules) all over again. It’s a do over. A clever way to purge the guilt, to acquire absolution and rid yourself of the shame and damnation. Now we see the writer looking at behavior modification by simply having more god in his life and thoughts. A puritanical cycle of thinking if ever there was one. The modification does not remove temptation but changes thinking processes in the writer’s mind in order to avoid temptation next time around. This is a plan that hormones really don’t cooperate with.

My sin tells me that I have not yet truly and fully converted my heart to God. And since the love of God is generated irresistibly by the vision of God, by the apprehension of his beauty, my sin indicates that I have not yet properly apprehended him. I have somehow erred in my apprehension.

We cannot correct the error of our apprehension that enables our sin – or rather, that is to say, *constitutes* our sin – except by turning to face him, opening our eyes and our hearts and letting him in. But because we err, we cannot see where to find him unless we are already facing him – in which case, we are not erring in the first place! So, we are stuck fast in the Sin against the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin that prevents our acceptance of redemption, and therefore effects its rejection.

That’s where Grace enters the picture. God will show us. All we have to do is ask, even though we don’t know exactly what we ask. When we say the Agnus Dei, or the Jesus Prayer, we ask him to show us how and where to turn to him.

What this amounts to is fairly simple, yet delicately complex… even sublimely complex. The believer (the writer specifically in this case) shows that there is no adjustment of rules, no adjudication of morality or right and wrong, only a law that cannot be changed and how the believer must react to it. This is blind acceptance of a rule that was dictated, not discovered. It is slavery of the worst kind… voluntary slavery. We see the writer’s thinking solidified… the original goal is to not go to hell. Interim conclusions accepted without question are then used to reason about the writer’s own actions and what turns out to be self-brainwashing. In the writer’s mind they will make any thing or action which constitutes sin an object/action in the simulator of their brain to have the property of repulsive, ugly, deadly. The writer’s brain will at some point along this course begin to react to said objects/actions with real repulsion and fear. The writer is effectively reprogramming the rules in their brain simulation such that they will be repulsed by sin and could possibly begin to trigger fight/flight responses if they tell a white lie, or find 100 dollar bill on the floor and not turn it in. These seem small matters until you get the situation where these trigger dire reactions in the mind of the believer. That white lie situation can soon trigger fear, bad decision making, avoidance and so on. Not because they tell a white lie but simply in reaction to the urge to do so.

There is a cycle involved here. The same cycle suffered by those that swear to lose xx pounds/stone but are not willing to modify their behavior to achieve the goal every time they seem to fail the objectives. Some folk set impossibly difficult goals for their resolutions, and then feel guilty because they cannot keep them nor change enough to ever achieve them.

I have compared this to resolutions like we make on New Year’s day for a reason. Both are subjective goals, both have subjective rules. These are invented rules which are not guided by empirical evidence and when we see ourselves failing at those goals, introspection causes us to do a number of things:

  • Feel shame for not meeting our own expectations, and our brains see this as a problem
  • Our brains are evolved to solve problems of cause-effect
  • We then see that the cause of the failure is self inflicted – that is we failed, there is no objective consideration of the situation and by objective consideration I mean one that is outside the thoughts of the guilty person
  • Guilt drives the person to reinforce the original unrealistic goal/rule

Sorry that this rambled a bit but I’m trying to show that theists get into the business of twisting logic because they first accepted as true a rule/goal without evidence. To twist logic and reason is much easier than going back and changing all the rules that got tied into the original error – the error of accepting something as true without evidence. Further, once we accept something as true our confirmation bias does a lot of harm in that it keeps reinforcing the original error to the point that the believer does not really care that their logic makes no sense objectively.

That is why many discussions end with “Well, it’s just what I believe and I’m allowed to have my own beliefs!”

To try to unravel their rules and properties assigned in effort to support the original erroneous rule/goal will not change that original error in the believer’s mind. The original error won’t get cleared out until the believer begins to doubt that truth by itself. I think that for reason to preside in society we have to ask “why do you think a god exists” and work with the believers, individually at times, to help them understand the first error – why the accepted the existence of a god as true in the first place. Many talk about indoctrination and so on, but this won’t get the believer to look at their own original error. Some of them are old enough now that they won’t remember why they decided that was not an error, rather that it was unmitigated truth. As they grow up they will find many ways to justify this erroneous rule such that no matter how many justifications you tear apart, it does not touch the value assignment of the original error in the believers mind simulation.

The original programming error is what needs to change.

Ideas on how to get the believer to ponder seriously that first error?

Internet Safety For Students, Everyone, And You Too

myatheistlife:

Internet safety alert….. yes, it’s for you stupid

Originally posted on Not about everything:

Sharing this, because it seems an interesting lesson.

I am teaching E-safety to my pupils at the moment and wanted to try a little experiment. Please share this photo and see how far it gets, I want to show my students how easily photos etc can go viral, even when you may not want them to. Share it and see how far it goes!

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View original

More Failed Logic From The Believers

I found this stuff at Fide Dubitandum

I don’t even feel like replying to the post. It seems pointless. Having said that, it is fair game for me to post about my reaction to it.

They start with a quote:

“The only way, really, to pursue a godlessness in good conscience is to forget history.”

- David Bentley Hart

It’s no surprise that Mr Hart is a theologian. Fide begins with:

In context, I found this a deeply penetrating statement about the condition of the current discussion between theists and materialists. What is that context? I highly recommend the full talk, but it can be summarized as follows:

It was, in many ways, understandable that Enlightenment thinkers would believe that a society liberated from all belief in transcendence would achieve new heights of prosperity and morality–that enough education, or the right social programs, would do what religion could not.

What he left out was the undeniable idea that religion has had its chance and created nothing but bloodshed, pain, and anger. There is no point in mentioning that because it kind of ruins his post. There is no reason to believe that a world bereft of religion would be a wonderful place with no problems but there is plenty of reason to think that a world without religion would be a better one than the world we have now.

Now that we are living in the wake of the bloodiest century in all of human history, it takes a deep lack of curiosity (or downright willful ignorance), to believe that a godless society is the unqualified good to be zealously persued.

This guy has clearly not acquainted himself with the work of Steven Pinker… he should.

He points out that Nietzsche’s fear of the “last men”–of those who have no deep truth to speak, no rational basis for morality, and therefore no meaning in their lives–now seems rather quaint. This idea has gone from a horrific and seemingly wild proclamation to a banal, almost tedious, observation the facts.

Yes, because without religion the world will crumble to one huge Mad Max film set. This kind of thinking gives zero credit to human nature and the idea that we are all basically good, willing to help, compassionate and often going well out of our way to help others. To such apologists as Fide these things are to be ignored or blamed on the remaining shards of religion in the world. This cynical denial of human nature is, at its root, disgusting in as much as it denies any goodness in any human except that they believe in a god.

The fact that so many, from the New Atheists to an all-too-large group of theists, have such a distorted, shallow view of what it is that Christianity actually claims is only the most recent evidence that ours is an age which has become so used to living without transcendence that far too many of us don’t even understand the word.

It is fair to say that IF non-believers have a distorted view of what Christianity claims it is because the claims are distorted and shallow. Many new atheists are reformed Christians who know all too well what Christianity claims and offers. To deny this is to simply ignore the facts and that is generally thought of as telling lies.

We can’t, of course, correct the problems sparked by the naivety of the Enlightenment thinkers simply by insisting that their view of reality was perfectly correct. And, whether they realize it or not, this is exactly what Dawkins and his fans are doing.

Right! Because nobody alive today has had a new idea or learned from past mistakes. Again, this intolerance of the idea that humans by nature are good and industrious as a group is disgusting. It denies all that is good in the world except that which is borne of religion. This is patently untrue and even this forked tongue apologist will admit that many atheists are good and that human nature is good but it doesn’t stop him from spouting just the opposite to make claim to righteousness and moral high  ground.

I, for one, think there are very good reasons to dismiss materialism as false. But, if it is true, it is a catastrophic truth–a bearer of meaninglessness and death. Those who speak as if it were, in some unspecified way, a glorious triumph have simply ignored the facts.

Here he speaks as if he ‘KNOWS’ that there is meaning to life and that there is more than death at the end of each human life. There is no evidence offered to support the claim and he further claims that the ‘facts’ do not support materialism. The trouble is that the facts do support materialist views. Non-materialist views have no credible evidence to support believing there is more to live than what materialism has to offer in that respect. This is presupposition pretending to be rationality. Pure bunk.

Talking About Atheism… On The Edge

Atheism is not my only interest in life but I find that it is one of those topics that is not like others. When people draw venn diagrams they put circles around the objects being discussed. I think that my interest in atheism is not so much about what is in the atheism circle but about the circle around it itself and where that circle overlaps on and moves inside other circles. The part on the cutting edge. the blurry bits where it might be difficult to contrast the difference or even detect it… the very fine edges of the overlap.

It is on that fine blurry edge where reality happens; where conversation happens; where understanding begins. Of course, life does not give us those lines to work with very often unless you’re talking to folk like a Ken Ham or a William Lane Craig who are very crisp in defining where their own edges are.

I noticed this distinction demonstrated today … heh, so I don’t have to explain it in depth. Let’s let Ryan Bell do the talking for a bit: (bold font added by me)

This morning I woke up and was suddenly aware of how my foray into the world of skepticism/agnosticism/atheism is precisely walking into a conversation already well underway. Those of you who were here before me have a language, definitions, metaphors and expressions that are useful in helping you explain how and what you think. There is a lot to learn just about the basic semantics and dynamics of the conversation, let alone the subject matter being discussed. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this because the same is true—and probably more true—in the world of theology. Talk about code language! You almost need to be a member of the guild just to have the conversation. The uninitiated use a particular word and those of us who have been in thinking about these things for couple of decades just look at each other like, “Gimme a break!”

That is to say that most of us stick strictly inside the circle in our part of the venn diagram, we don’t venture out to the edges where there is a defining line and things are not so safe. I think that you can tell if someone is trying to stand out there on that fine but fuzzy line and perhaps dip a toe in the water on the other side when they acknowledge the difficulty of standing there. Bell says this:

Thank you for humoring me where I’m getting into something I’m not entirely prepared for, and thank you for taking my questions and inquiries seriously (or at least trying to). Judging from the response, it’s more than just me out there who is somewhere along the continuum of faith and certainty, theism and atheism, knowing and not knowing and needs to be a part of this conversation. Thanks for making room for us.

He even recognizes that there are many others sticking a toe in the water on the other side. I believe this to be quite important for all of us to recognize. That is not to say that I find compatibility between atheism and theism or science and creationism, but that there is a continuum between one end and the other and we arbitrarily draw the line around what we subjectively feel is the stuff that should be inside the circle we stand in.

There have been attempts by several groups to define humanity by gender or privilege but all they are really doing is defining some subset of human thought and then getting grumpy that not everyone else is inside their subjective circle.

What? Where are you going with this?

Our prejudices stop the conversation or keep it away from the topics that we should be talking about in the first place.

  • Theism is not true – should be why do you think there is a god?
  • Atheism is a sin – should be why don’t you think you are sinning?

Rather than make declarations we should be questioning the motives behind the beliefs of others. It is when we do this that we can begin to understand how they think about life and the world around us. A discussion about Noah’s ark should include all the evidence – you know, teach the controversy because until we all actually think about what we believe and why we believe it, we won’t be crossing any lines soon. When enough people trample on the lines, all the barriers will come down and one or more of those circles will shrink allowing for the correct circle to get bigger. This is, after all, how science works. What I’m talking about here is peer review on a daily and opportunistic basis.

No, I’m not trying to tell you to ‘be nice’ but I am hopeful that we will all work harder to bring the conversation to what we believe and why rather than what school of thought is wrong and which is right. The one with evidence and support will show itself to be right – which ever that turns out to be.

No, I don’t think this contradicts what I’ve written in my blog. I claim a lot of labels yet don’t find them sufficient so I’ve written a few posts whose title starts with ‘My Word View’ and will continue to do so… what I understand to be true and why I understand it that way. I often have trouble finding believers that want to do the same thing. I’m hopeful that Bell’s experiment will encourage this method of discourse in many of us – what do you believe and why? Finding a common language is just the first step but if we manage to carry through with it we should all end up better educated and education is the answer to many problems in human life.

Thoughts?

 

My World View – Spirituality And Transcendence

Define the word?

The term spirituality lacks a definitive definition,[1][2] although social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration.[3]

The use of the term “spirituality” has changed throughout the ages.[4] In modern times, spirituality is often separated from Abrahamic religions,[5] and connotes a blend of humanistic psychology with mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions aimed at personal well-being and personal development.[6] The notion of “spiritual experience” plays an important role in modern spirituality, but has a relatively recent origin.[7]

Clearly we humans have some difficulty defining spirituality. Those of you who have read many of my other world view posts will know that I’m a mechanical atheist, materialist, nihilist, monist and have a grand interest in how we think, what that implies, and what consciousness is.

I’ve seen a few posts lately of people talking about what spirituality means both for theists and atheists etc. None of these definitions match my understanding so I wanted to put it out here. I don’t expect that you’ll understand it nor appreciate it.

Some background, Jill Bolte-Taylor wrote a book called My Stroke Of Insight where she describes having a major brain stroke. She is a neuroscientist so understood a lot of what was going on. You can also find her TED talk. It’s inspiring.

She describes the two hemispheres of the brain acting out different functions, one experiencing data input and one putting all that data in a time ordered construct or understanding. She lost the time order to the data and describes what that feels like. I urge you to watch her TED talk.

Yeah, that IS a real human brain… much like your own, or used to be.

What she is describing, in my inestimable opinion, is what we glimpse when we see a sight that falls outside our time ordered construction of a model of the world around us. The data is overwhelmingly present in our senses but it is something we cannot place neatly into a time order or structured model of the world as we know it. This feeling is often described as awe, transcendence, and other such words. The feeling is what is going on in your head with all the inputs and outputs for the simulation of the world that you run there is that the data does not match your brains ability to construct a model – it is experience without constraints of construct and attributes for manipulation in the simulation, Such things as a beautiful sunset are without description and defy us when we try. This is because even though the data is ‘in your face’ there is only the opportunity to experience it without being able to construct a model of it in your head – that is you cannot find the attributes necessary to construct a copy of this data as a model in the simulation that runs in your brain (consciousness). You simply do not have the modelling data to do so so this ‘experience’ of data gives us a transcendent feeling, that the experience is beyond simple understanding and outside our ability to explain or describe.

We all have brains that run a simulation of the world around us (consciousness) and despite world views we will all find experiences which simply don’t slip into place in that simulation. We will ALL experience awe or transcendence or spirituality feelings.

We know that with meditation and practice we can affect how the simulation functions. We even have tricks to cause a dissonance between the simulator and reality (often this is no more than a recreational activity) but there are meditative techniques (meditation and religious activities as well) which cause this loss of sync between experienced data and simulator ability.

Spirituality is the result of a ‘glitch’ in the simulator in your head. There are no external ‘forces’ involved unless you attribute ‘force’ to the experience of sensory data such as the ‘force’ of a wondrous sunset. It’s a good glitch most of the time, but we can cause a similar glitch to happen as well when we ‘feel’ like there is a ghost in the room, and that is not so pleasant.

Do robots dream? Yes we do… and we experience and love and wonder…

Doing Harm With A Smile… The Good Of Religious Belief

First, Do No Harm…

This maxim has questionable origin yet its value is beyond mere origin. No cure is acceptable if it causes more harm. We could discuss this at length if desired but I simply want to state it as a premise for the rest of this piece. This maxim does not specify how much harm, only that doing harm is not the method or manner to a cure in its usage generally.

One might rightly ask ‘what is harm’ when evaluating this. It’s common sense to know that cutting off a foot to cure an in-grown toe nail is not in keeping with the maxim, even if it relieves the pain of the toe nail. Clearly, long term harm is not acceptable as a cure for short term ills. I think most or all of us will find this as an acceptable maxim or a kind of truth for every day life.

With that premise fairly stated, let’s jump right in to the discussion here.

There are a great many people who blog or write on the Internet that think they are doing good for people. Mind you, the good they think they are doing is a subjective opinion not shared by all of humanity, rather it is an opinion shared by a very small portion of humanity. Still, they believe they are doing good so spread their ‘knowledge’ of how things work in order to spread good among the world. Many even offer advice or suggestions for how to make life better, how to live a better life, or simply how to enjoy life better.

Is their subjective opinion useful? Some think so. Is it beneficial on more than one level? Some think so. How do we judge good from harm? This is a subjective (even if it seems universal) process for good does not mean the same things in all circles. There are some that think they know what objective good is but can’t show evidence of such a thing as absolute objective good. So what can it mean then to ‘first do no harm’ ?

Thus begins a series of analytical looks at well intentioned religious posts from around the WP blogosphere. I’m going to start with a post that seems to be promoting a policy or ethic which I’m not familiar with: Doctrine of Vocation?

We start off with a valid question and a scripture quote. All things in the holy book are true is the premise for such a beginning. This one is reminiscent of a divine teddy bear picnic. Let’s see what it says:

WHY CAN’T I BE CONTENT AT WORK?

“Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:5-9, NIV)

All believers who believe the holy text to be completely true will draw conclusions from this. They are not necessarily correct conclusions, but this is their interpretation:

God created Utopia from nothing. He created a world which was pure, clean, and beautiful and gave it to man to take care of. God was a worker. He created man in His own image – to work the land and care for His new world. God saw a vision of men and women working in harmony, worshiping Him and glorifying Him in everything they did. He saw a peaceful world filled with love and beauty.

Here we have the unabashed statement that something can come from nothing, but it requires magic. Some how we are to believe that this god worked hard, even though he simply speaks things into existence and nothing that exists is not his creation. Further there is an assumption about this god’s intent which bends the understanding toward the writer’s intent for the lesson. “men and women working in harmony” is not what religion brings us today, no, far from it. But let’s skip reality here, there is a lesson to preach. Wait, I know you want to understand what this has to do with truth or honest understanding of the world… well, nothing that I can discern. Still, it is the premise of the lesson so let’s bear with it.

So why has that which God designed to be so majestic often become so mundane – so meaningless? Why all the confusion  about our work? Why can’t we relax and enjoy our jobs? Whatever our jobs are, no matter how ordinary they seem, they can be extraordinary and brimming with God-honoring importance and significance if they are done well and for the glory of God.

So the lesson comes as resultant from the premise that the writer understands the mind of a god. Right here we see damage and harm being done. The hapless reader is to assume and adjust their thinking that it is possible to know the mind of a god, that gods are real, and that the purpose in life has been set down in an ancient book. So what are we learning here:

  1. Gods are real
  2. We are here through the use of magic
  3. There is a purpose to life because it says so in a book
  4. This writer knows that purpose because he knows the mind of a god

These rules for life are dangerous. No matter that they might make some folk feel good, they are dangerous. The authors of Interactive Philosophy blog have nailed down why this is harmful. If we base our understanding of the world on a rule such as ‘magic works’ we can make all kinds of bad decisions. If we believe simply because we are told to then anything that perverts the course of the god’s plan is counter to survival and this will cause us to make very bad decisions. Check out “The Dazzle of Convictions” post.

If we are discovering the rich and robust doctrine of vocation for the first time, we might be tempted to see it as a passing Christian fad. In our more cynical moments, we might wonder whether all this talk about work is merely the latest hype in an often shallow, populist Christian faith. Though this kind of thinking about work may be new to you, let me assure you that the language and doctrine of Christian vocation is not faddish but foundational to an integral Christian faith. A right understanding of vocation has been a transforming truth in the day-to-day ordinary lives of faithful followers of Jesus for many centuries. Vocation is a robust theology of ordinary, everyday life.

Just because people have been ‘apparently’ following this doctrine for a long time does not make it true, correct, useful, or harmless. An appeal to popularity or authority is nothing but an attempt to manipulate the reader. It says that the lesson is true and to be trusted because other people have used it. This is harmful because it urges the reader to abandon evidence based judgement and this is harmful as it will encourage further ignorance of evidence based judgement in other areas of life.

What can you do to bring a little excitement back into you job? Try praying. Try studying the word of God. Quit complaining. Do your very best in everything you do. Make sure the path you are taking is a path that honors God and not one that turns you further away from Him.

Here we see the real harm done. Do not seek actual methods of finding happiness or contentment. Turn toward your imaginary friend and ignore the facts of life. Persevere in unhappiness to glorify the god. Be content as slaves and glorify the god. Do not seek to change your life or job or do anything which would alter your situation, simply internalize this unhappiness and situation as your fault and pray to the god to help you feel better about your shitty life. Why should the reader do this?

Happiness and contentment come when we find ourselves living closer to our Father and further from those things that bring us down.

Enjoy your day, “Working for Christ!”

Support the church, believe in magic, pay your tithes, quit complaining, be a good slave. More than that, be a happy slave. Never do anything to improve your own little piece of the world never mind the parts of the world that are outside your reach. Suffer in silence and let the god take care of the rest of the world, it’s not your problem for you are broken and can’t even fix your own world. Shhhhhh do as I say.

If you tell a child they are worthless and stupid often enough that child will believe it is true. This type of lesson we see in this post is the equivalent of that constant derision. How can we expect those that believe they are broke and must trust their church leaders for wisdom to make good decisions. They know nothing of fixing the world’s problems nor of taking responsibility for their culpability in them.

This simple feel good happy shiny lesson is harmful to those that believe it. That in turn is harmful to the rest of us because those people will be the weak link in the chain of society, they will hold the rest of us back. Be certain, this message is not a positive message. It does not lift the spirits of those reading it. It tells the reader they are powerless to change things and so must simply smile and be a good slave. Those slaves vote. They are everywhere around us making changes to the lives the rest of us live. They would take away your rights to ensure their god’s apparent wishes are met. Slaves serve their masters and these masters do not want you to have the life you want unless the life you want is that of slave to their god.

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