Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Dark Ages weren’t so bad so “Let’s put God back in our country.”

I try to steer clear of religionists who are so over the top that engaging them would be an exercise in futility. It’s not like anything I say would make a difference, and it serves to just get my blood pressure up. That’s why I prefer to keep religionist Facebook friends to a minimum, and fundies to zero.

As luck will have it, a good FB friend who is much more ecumenical than I, asked for my input to a comment left on his page. The comment was in response to an article about Louisiana defying separation of church and state and infusing Christianity into the classroom : 

”God has been taken out of so many things over the years, its no wonder our country is in as bad shape as it is. If we keep the mentally of God first, Country second, Family third, Others fourth, and self last, you'd be surprised what accomplishments will transpire.”  

 Jim Williams, Fishers, Indiana

[Notice that family comes in a distant third behind his imaginary God. I guess if it comes down to God demanding a human sacrifice, or his playing catch with his kid, we know who’s gonna get the short end of the stick.]

Yes, Jim would like to see more god in our country.  You know, the good old days when people worshiped together on bloody knees, while doing penance, and flagellating themselves; when King's ruled with God Given Divine Right; when Pope's and priests were sacrosanct; when unread uneducated peasants fell to their knees praying for the plague to end, or burned Jews at the Church's behest for their having conveniently been found responsible for spreading the plague.

Who doesn’t long for those days when God was first, and prevailed above all else? When he filled the hearts of men; where God and country were one in the same, and family was second so that they didn’t hesitate to turn in their family witches; subjected their ill to the torment of exorcism, and reported heretics promptly and often. Where God determined the guilt or innocence of loved ones or the scapegoated by whether or not they drowned when thrown bound into a pool, or if they felt pain when they were burned alive at the stake.

Ahhh ... the good old days of Church and God above all, when Jews were persecuted, crusades were fought, and science was trampled underfoot all in protection of God's holy word and for God’s glory; when the only book anyone needed was the Holy Bible - but only in the hands of the Church, on pain of death, lest commoners misinterpret the words, contradict the Church’s interpretation and run amok.

Yes… lets get God back into our nation, our schools, our military, our courts, and elevate him/it above all else. Let’s regress, deny the scientific age, toss out all those troubling freedoms and rights societal evolution has delivered over the past 1000 years; chuck the scientific advancement gained in spite of religious suppression.  We can call this new and improved era  "The Dark Ages" or to avoid confusion 1000 years from now …  "The Dark Ages 2.0".

Then, I'm sure God will shine his countenance upon us and bless us much as he has blessed our most religious God Fearing state - Mississippi - whose poverty, crime, teen pregnancy, under education, unemployment, and short life expectancy are epic, and have run rampant for generations under His Divine Blessings.

We have been warned!!!  Until and unless this happens we may fall further into the depths of godlessness and find ourselves like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark three of the worlds ten most prosperous nations, where a majority are atheist, have the strongest economies, enjoy the highest standards of living, lowest crime rates, lowest suicide rates and highest education levels on the entire planet. Gawd protect us from THAT horror!!!

The Jim Williams’ are many.  They infest this nation; they breed in litters and infect their offspring with this backwardness thus prolonging religio-mindlessness for another generation.  They vote for prayer in school, the banning of abortion, the criminalization of homosexuality, the rejection of evolutionary theory, the acceptance of Creationism as science. They promote the idea of dinosaur riding by cave men, the US as a Christian Nation, the Ten Commandments as the basis for the Constitution, and the idea that storms, earthquakes, fires, droughts and slow economic growth are the signs of their God’s disapproval and wrath.

They are the FOX news faithful, and rabid supporters of those GOP politicians  whose seemingly weekly outrageous public comments would be laughable if they were joking, and that make even moderate Republicans shudder in disbelief and embarrassment.

It’s the 21st century in most of the world, a welcome era when the possibilities of scientific discovery and great strides in social advancement will make this country, the world, a better place.   But not in the minds of the Jim Williams’ and his ilk who mourn the passing of the age of the boogieman.  Their own passing can’t happen soon enough for me.   

Friday, January 17, 2014

Humanism: The activist atheist’s wimpy brother.

I’d like to call my self a Humanist.  It has such a nice connotation and at face I seem to have much in common with them. Their code of ethics is based on positive assertions.  You know, like respecting science and being kind to our stupider theist brethren (my words not theirs).

But the fact is the few times I’ve brushed elbows with Humanists I tended to find myself being looked down on like some kind of bomb throwing radical fiend, out to destroy peoples beliefs, ridicule them, and cause them angst in the process…as though that’s a bad thing.

I read a blog today by the executive director of the American Humanist Association that really tweaked my hump.  Among a lot of pastoral avuncular babble he included condemnation of Richard Dawkins for things he said that make nonbelievers seem arrogant and which are hurtful to religionist / non-believer relations (as though I want a relationship with believers).  Two examples were Dawkins’ statements that "… religion is an organized license to be acceptably stupid."  and that the “…combined number of Nobel Prizes won by Muslims was less than that won by a single English university.“

Here’s the whole article if you care to read it:

Both of those statements are true, at least by any thinking person’s standards. Without organized religion and it’s doctrine of inculcating stupid, and maintaining it, people who independently “believed” in creationism would be declared stupid by the entire planet. There is no reasonable debate about that.  Only the fact that organized religion supports and promotes ancient ignorance and rejects scientific fact is what keeps religious people from understanding and accepting the fact of evolution.  It’s mass stupidity by doctrine. 

As for the Muslims’ notable lack of contributions to civilization over the past couple of centuries; the inference is real.  Muslims represent 1.6 billion people / 23% of the planet’s population, yet they garnered less than 1% of the Nobel prizes awarded. Compare that to the 13.8 million Jews who represent 0.2% of the planet’s population and have been awarded 23%  (TWENTY-THREE PERCENT) of the Nobel Prizes.

Dawkins’ comparative example’s point is clear:  Islam does not (any longer, nor for some time) promote, foster, nor admire intellectual growth and academic achievement. It contributes little to the advancement of civilization. Indeed, it goes beyond that even to being a detriment to our advancement. 

Yes, the truth sometimes hurts.  That’s life.  If Humanism is about sugar coating, caging reality in less in your face terms, playing word games, and making nice to the point where the telling of a truth - in all its ugliness - is interpreted as "arrogance" that puts freethinkers in a bad light and hurts the feelings of the willingly deluded who would impose their delusions on all of us just as they do to their children, well… that's why I remind myself why I won’t call myself a Humanist.  Fact is, I’m now suspicious of those that do. 

As Humanists are the wimpy brother of activist atheists, so too are they the first cousin of Uncle Tom atheists; those Neville Chamberlain, appeasing atheists, who decry the activism of the FFRF, or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State as “inflammatory.”  
Fuck ‘em both.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Atheists aren't immune to the religion meme: The Hump's Revelation

If you're anything like me, minus the hump, you probably think you're above believing in the kind of nonsensical things we associate with religion; things like "soul" "the spiritual" or other incorporeal concepts. You may be surprised to find out we are not totally immune to the supernatural meme.

I am currently reading Daniel Dennett's  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon .  It's a very interesting read on the origin and evolution of religion, approaching it from a scientific perspective. In it he discusses animism.  Merriam-Webster defines animism this way: 

1:  a doctrine that the vital principle of organic development is immaterial spirit
2:  attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects
3:  belief in the existence of spirits separable from bodies

While Dennett discusses animism as it relates to assigning objects either supernatural powers, or having human like attributes, as I was reading I stumbled onto something that got me thinking about my own susceptibility toward imbuing objects with "something more", something beyond their bland objective reality.  The highlight definition above is the aspect I'm going to proffer we are all guilty of buying into, consciously or unconsciously.

What value would you place on an 18th century American made maple desk?  I'm no furniture or antiques expert so I wouldn't even venture an actual dollar value.  But if that otherwise nondescript, albeit well made desk, has a provenance proving that it was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and was the very desk he used to compose the Virginia Constitution, and the famous letter to the Danbury Baptists reaffirming the importance of the "separation of church and state",  my guess is you'd assess a much much higher value than you would for the desk's twin that did not have such an honored past.

Another example: would you not increase the valuation of a pristine Kentucky rifle of the early 19th century, if the rifle was known to be owned by Davey Crockett? If you were a gun collector you sure would.
But why?

Why should a diamond owned by Liz Taylor have more intrinsic value than the identical diamond owned by your aunt Tilly?

Our first instinct would be to proclaim the enhanced value is due to it being a part of our history; directly traceable to a notable personality who made a singular contribution of some sort.  Well, yes... that sounds perfectly reasonable -  we think. But if the desk, or the rifle, or diamond were indistinguishable from any other example, exactly what specifically contributes to the perhaps ten, twenty, one-hundred fold enhanced value of the inanimate object in question?

This, I proffer, is where we are unconsciously imbuing an object with, for lack of a better word ... a spiritual quality. Something in that object enhances its value because it was touched, handled, employed by a famous person even though it feels, looks and works the same as its twin that has no famous provenance. 

Does touching, viewing, owning that object bring us "closer" to it's noble owner?  Does the object carry with it a spark of what that person stood for?  Does that object border on our accepting some concept of quasi-soul or consciousness of the inanimate than we as atheists and freethinkers are comfortable admitting?  What is this if not an "attribution of conscious life to ... inanimate objects"?

I've tried to rationalize why this is. I keep trying to tell myself  "It's, it's, it's because it's part of history, and thus is deserved of  a special value!"  But, that's emotion , that's "the heart speaking"  (as a Christian might say).  It's not thinking in purely rational and reasoned terms with the brain.

The fact is the supernatural meme, handed down from generation to generation, is alive in all of us to a degree we may not want to acknowledge. On the upside, in this benign form it doesn't make us behead people, persecute them, or drive us to teach our young lies.  I can accept that.