An athiest’s case in favor of religion

On the web you will rarely see atheists making arguments for religion in any form, but it occurs to me that we may have been looking at from an unhelpful perspective.

In general it is a good premise to assume that atheists not only lack faith, but lack a capacity for it that believers have. Perhaps there is something in the makeup of an atheist mind that short-circuits the capacity for agency recently posited by evolutionary anthropologists , or maybe we are just rebellious independents who got tripped up over the blatant hypocrisy of our childhood congregations.

We are surrounded by believers on a daily basis. Perhaps they are family, or friends, or even office coworkers we get along with but don’t necessarily like.  Whatever the circumstance may be we are faced with a daily challenge of second guessing what might upset them, or else having to ease ourselves around their sensitivities. Rational debate with them is seldom productive, other than to provide a cheap thrill by upsetting them from time to time. For the most part we like them, or at least want to get along with them.

For we who have experienced a conversion out of a religious environment either from personal epiphany, or simply because it never fit and our life circumstances allowed us to stay away there may be a lingering astonishment as well as resentment that such beliefs could be held. Accepting religion as a necessary institution is not an easy matter.

It is possible to rationalize the concept of “needing” belief in the same sense as one does the concept of “needing” shelter or sustainable when housing and food are possessed, but the majority of us will not experience that need personally and deeply. Even the indigent in the United States have ample resources to obtain at least a hot meal at night if they want it. If we interact with people that have had those sorts of needs however, it becomes apparent that it can drive one to irrational or desperate actions.

Is the need for belief in something a physiological requirement for them? Perhaps there is a is a greater tendency for fear in these individuals and their need to be fearful makes them an easy mark for a system that focuses that fear on a supernatural narrative and provides a peace which allows them to function. Without study it is mere speculation.

Like a domesticated flock most of us are corralled by the priests among us. We fear a state of existence outside the flock and are willing to blind ourselves to the nature of our reality. Indeed do not missionaries seek to place themselves as the patriarchs of the new converts? Are not primitives, or the poor and desperate provided for in exchange for an implied obedience to a set of values and social taboos that place the the evangelist in a state of authority?

This need not be a religious sort of subjugation; Alcohol Anonymous’ 12 Step program indicates that belief in a higher power is necessary for control of one’s cravings, and that the individual is weak an unable to do anything of their own accord. This more or less excuses the person if they slip up, while the use of peer pressure keeps them in line as they aren’t supposed to lie to their buddy.

It is similar to the institution of religion which seeks to place the adherent in a state of humility in order to prescribe behavior. Focus the fear of the inner-voice, or agency detector on a mystical plausibility and then provide secret knowledge to overcome it. This tendency is exploited – perhaps knowingly – by those who wish to guide society by their will… Is a behavior disruptive this guidance? Call it sinful and prescribe outcast status on the violators, and the congregation will more or less conform.

Nationalism, Environmentalism, and even broad conceptions such as Liberalism or Conservatism are fixed in place by their own sorts of priests. The Sierra Club advertises with emotionally manipulative images that provoke us to care about the world and to give them money to do something about it. Fundamentalist secular believers commit outrageous acts to “punish” us performing actions which they oppose – releasing pharmaceutical test animals for example as protested by Animal Liberation Front activists.

Rush Limbaugh extorts obedience to Conservatism through his radio show where he describes foreboding imaginings of life in an America where liberal ideals are in the majority. In his view, and based on economic evidence he is correct here, taxing citizens and businesses to provide welfare is detrimental as it penalizes producers for their success, while it does not inhibit non-producers for their lacking contributions. Successful and or productive individuals will reduce their output to a level which is approximately “fair” to them, or they will go elsewhere and seek to prosper.

On another channel Rachel Maddeaux extols the virtues of being publicly ashamed of our government’s decision to engage in yet another conflict. While there was an acceptable amount of political and legal justification for escalating an armed conflict in the Middle East, it was perhaps not the wisest decision by the Bush Jr. administration to invade Iraq. Had the national sentiment at that moment not been in a militant nationalist fervor, it is entirely possible that conflict would have been far more limited, or avoided altogether.

Put the secular congregants of either personality in the same confined space and watch a new level of Holy War begin.

Are some of these beliefs so wrong? If they were founded on reason and rationalism would dogmatic adherence to these good sorts of beliefs be less valid or valuable than a conscious one? Is it possible to have a system of dogma that is not counter productive to reason and knowledge – a sort of neutral unthinking that is not required to step outside comfortable boundaries while at the same time resilient to the effects of fear-mongering?

Religious believers may become hostile or passive aggressive when their world view is challenged. Environmentalists, New-Agers, and Alternative Medicine adherents may likewise turn hostile when confronted with the absurdity of their beliefs. They mean well and may earnestly believe but are mislead and armed with dogma against reason.

What is obvious is that atheists have not quite figured out this game. We don’t understand the deep emotional attachments to ideals, and because we are not willing to accept an unfounded premise without testing it we are far more likely to accept new information and change our minds. We adapt better to the changes in our modern environment, but we are also more likely to suffer from catastrophic failures of our discoveries when unexpected consequences strike.

Many goodhearted people are not able to master an understanding of the scientific method or make an evidence based conjecture. Those same people may be on the front line of a disaster providing aid and comfort to those in need not only because their faith tells them they should do it, but because it provides something for them-  they feel good doing it. The majority of internet atheists do not address this tendency, though it is wonderful to see an atheist outreach campaign – The Atheist Community of Austin.

While there are certainly more criticisms of religion by the internet atheist set than one has time to read each day, what has the atheist community offered them as incentive besides invalidation and scorn? It is because of this that atheists remain marginalized and have to constantly justify themselves or provide a legal defense.

I challenge the Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harrises out there to provide a compelling argument as to why the vocal face of atheism must remain critical.

Since atheists have the same need for support, social connection, and community that other humans do, why not develop a set of principles that can be substituted for many of the religious taboos that elicit similar behavior, and provide a community in which these can be practiced? Provide an institution of social reinforcement, supportive community, and primary needs fulfillment which can be used to solicit the belief of the masses to accept principles of rationalism and if not an understanding of the methods of reason and science, at least a belief that the process is good and beneficial. It is necessary to provide them with a charismatic Sheppard that can give them assurances against their doubts.

We are humans.  Information and technology is our evolutionary adaptation against selection. We have a duty to do all we can to mitigate the destructive effects of religious intolerance, and preserve the values of reason from the minds of secular mystics seeking salvation in primitivism.

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Out of the closet as an atheist

One of the reasons that I fell out of faith, or quickly learned that I did not really possess it was that I had a break with the indoctrination process and found that the contradictions that had been described as folly were indeed fact. I grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist family, and went to the church’s school and attended Sabbath school every weekend, missed all the good cartoons, and realized between about 7 and 8 years of age that I was wasting 1 perfectly good day every week not having the kind of fun I wanted to.

By the time I finished grade school I knew there was something not right with the environment. There were lies being told by scoundrels – those manipulative older men who waggle a finger in your face and tell you to be good or else. Half-truths repeated not so much as a deception but as a wish being expressed by the teller hoping that after all this fantastic fabrication were true.

A break came when my family moved to a different state in a town where that church did not have a high school of its own. The local church schools were not acceptable and I had flatly refused to go to one, or to attend a boarding school in a town nearby.

Leaving the environment at that age was critical since as a teenager I needed my own identity and community. The social need a congregation fills is inherent in us all. Lies told by church elders became more apparent. The kids I went to school with were mostly good kids. Some were believers many were Christian and enough not. The fact that the behavior of the non-Christian kids was better and that they were fairly intelligent gave me the opportunity to focus my desire for understanding on exploring the forbidden world.

As a teenager I did not find the conception of a universe as imagined by young earth creationists to be all that plausible, and so did not have a problem adapting to the concepts of evolution, cosmology, and geology as described in the newly available non-creationist science books I was reading in high-school. These had been issues that were pressed on me as ultimately important, in fact in my childhood congregation they were almost of more importance than the concepts of love and harmony which Christ supposedly preached.

Other Christians believed in something like the bible but they didn’t believe in the Seventh Day or worse yet did not believe the Bible was the inviolate word of God. There were only 144,000 humans throughout all time who were to be blessed with eternal life and bet he highest scions of Gods creation. Never sure whether that 144,000 was all that would ever be saved as it varied from Adventist to Adventist, but it was fairly sure that you didn’t want to be in any other group when the time came.

This notion does not jibe with the concept of an all loving and merciful God who would create a race of man, create an Angel of the Morning who would rebel and bring evil to the universe, and then punish this race for falling for it. Early on this did not make sense, but of course that questioning brings the answer – “Mysterious Ways”.

For several years I maintained a commitment to pray, and tried to carry some sort of faith or spirituality, but it was not necessary and I eventually committed myself to pursue a non-Christian path.

My immediate family is accepting of this, but it is not brought up to the extended members.

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Things Not To Do if you are an Eco-Villain

So you feel a little stressed

You recently were called to task for spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil, methane, and a variety of other useful resources into the Gulf of Mexico. What do you do? A) A masssage/rub-and-tug. B) A long weekend at your Aspen Chateau.  C) Attend a Rigatta in the U.K.

Well if you are Tony Hayard then C is your way to go.  And of course what could appear more smug than attending a Yacht Race after your company has more or less ruined the coastal economy of Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and of course Mexico, and eventually parts of the Carribean?

Well… thanks Tony.  At least you could try to look shameful, appologetic, or otherwise concerned about what your company just did.

Here’s the thing; shit happens sure… we understand if something went wrong and despite all the best efforts of you and your crew shit hit the fan.  If you work around the clock with your geologists, and engineers, and whomever else volunteers to get it fixed, well then we might have some sympathy for your plight. 

Did your boat-race benefit the cleanup efforts? No? Then you’re an asshole.  Did you donate your proceeds to the relief effort? No? Then you’re an asshole. Are you the final word in BP proceedure yet unable/unwilling to shoulder responsibility for this mess? Well… I think perhaps you know were I’m going with this… asshole.

I don’t have a problem with BP if this were simply an unfortunate series of events. I can understand everything going very very wrong without warning. This is NOT one of those instances. Corporate documents have been released showing what establised standards were in place… and also showing how they were overlooked and/or negligently ignored.

I can’t fathom how this event prompts you to simply act like it is a minor personal nuicance. Guess what Tony… Fuck You! This is YOUR mess. Take responsibility for it. Act somewhat ashamed, and at least try to show that you personally are concerned. Else don’t expect any sympathy the next time that you are the target of eco-terrorists.

I hope that Earth First, or Greenpeace. or the Sea Shepards whom I otherwise despise takes a personal interest you and makes your life hell. I have a child on the way motherfucker. I think you should have to spend the next 5 years or so personally shoveling crude tar off the beaches for te next 5 years or so.

That is my rant for today… 6/20/2010

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Post Primary Blues

Yesterday California voted and now we get to live with our wonderful decision making process.  A handful of propositions and several candidates were up for choosing, and we sure did choose.

First up, a run down on the propositions.  These wonderful little oddities of California politics allow regular people like you and me to have direct say in government proceedings.  It’s kinda neat being able to tweak your political settings in a direct way. Of course that can go very very wrong if you don’t know what you’re voting for.  Without further ado:

Proposition 14 : Primary Election Participation.  This one passed and it’s a mixed blessing.  Essentially it means that independent voters perhaps like you, but certainly like me are now able to vote in primary elections for whichever candidate we choose.  The downside is that when it comes to the primaries there will only be two candidates to choose from. Supposedly this will increase non-partisanship in state government (and Washington – boy are some parties a bit vain to think that as goes California so goes the nation huh?).  This is either naive and wishful thinking on behalf of those who crafted this measure, or perhaps a calculated move to edge out any independent, or smaller parties.

This essentially will eliminate the smaller alternative parties . With the Democrat and Republican parties able to out spend either the Green or Libertarian parties the likelihood that any independent candidate will get past the primary election is virtually nil.  My preference is to have as many options as possible.

Illustration here.  Credit: Secretary of State @ Vote.State.CA.Gov

Proposition 15: Fair Elections – Looked like a loser, smelled like a loser, and went down like one.  Essentially under the guise of providing “fair” access to the election process, candidates could collect money from our taxes to fund their campaigns.

Welfare politics says I! No one really wants to have more of their tax money go to nonsense that costs them more taxes in the first place.

This proposition was in conflict with 14. It made no sense as it actually did nothing to make the process “fair” other than cost you and me more money to bring loser candidates to the table.

Proposition 16: Here we go with one of my favorite things – getting manipulated and used by a not-so-small private industry trying to buy favorable legislation.

Essentially Pacific Gas & Electric funded the bulk of the advertising for this proposition which would have required a 2/3 majority vote for the expansion of municipal power supply. Yep you and me have to all go and vote every time someone needs a hookup in their sub-division.

PG&E?  They’re exempt since they’re private so they’ll be happy to hook you up. Incidentally, the analysts report that municipal customers pay less on average than customers of private power suppliers.

I say make your own… it’s not terribly difficult and pays off in a reasonable time for homeowners. I also find myself repulsed by the idea of a business using underhanded tactics to more or less extort a monopoly from us.  Glad it went down in flames.

Proposition 17: See proposition 16, replace Mercury Insurance with PG&E, rinse and repeat.

That’s it for those daffy props. I think we got hoodwinked on 14, but then I guess there are plenty of fans of the giant-douch/turd-sandwhich model of politics.

As for the candidates:  Ebay Sweetheart Meg Whitman soundly beat Steve Poizner with 64% of the total vote. Honestly I’m glad she did. Whatever Stevo had to offer, it sure wasn’t anything I heard about.

The Megster’s campaign started out proactive and stated her case and qualifications for the job. She is apparently qualified as a business woman, at least her employment history would show that. Is she qualified for the job of governator?

It would appear from cursory wikipedia research that while “pro-job” she is also lax on rights and environment. Ms. Whitman is anti-gay marriage, and anti Marijuana Legalization. Commentary on drug prohibition, and gay rights are available in other articles.

Her take on the environment is not unexpected for a Republican candidate – happy to scrap a climate change act, and let the waters flow again Ms. Whitman may not be the darling of the greens.

Some of the stuff in the bill is based on junk science, and most of the rest on incomplete science. Working to maintain a healthy environment for our future is very important and one of my passions. I’m giving her a pass on this one though.

Steve Poizner on the other hand came out swinging and hitting below the belt. I guess his Poizonous adds didn’t help him out much. What can be said about Mr. Poizner? Well he has been the state insurance commissioner since 2006, has been of mixed success in politics, and fairly successful in business. He makes attempts to look good on education. These seem a bit duplicitous at best.

The unsung cast members?

Laura Wells is the Green Party candidate. She doesn’t have the experience as a big-time politico or business-tycoon, but has a respectable track record as a local participant in the political process. She advocates sensible solutions that put government back in its place as a resource of the people. I remain wary of her ties to a party that I’m rather uncertain of however.

The American Independent Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party put up candidates who I’ve never heard of and couldn’t find much info on.

The American Independent Party is a paleoconservative party. I think that means they are too old fashioned to even be stereotypical Republicans. They don’t appreciate the likes of Rush Limbaugh because he is too soft . It’s pretty much a snap that they don’t get along so well with the next group.

The Peace and Freedom Party is a socialist, feminist, environmentalist type of group that you probably wouldn’t have heard much about unless you grew up as a hippie, or paid excessive attention to the bulletin boards at your local granola grocer coop. Not my cup of vegan chai latte, and not many others apparently – they split about 34,000 votes across the whole state. Ani DiFranco should sing about it.

That about wraps up election post-casting. Since it already happened, there is no sense in making an appeal to it.

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Implications Upon Our Venerable Media Circus

I am not a wing-blogger. I don’t like the concept of right or left wing. It really isn’t as simple as either/or… At least it shouldn’t be. I was born and remain a citizen of the United States, so I tend to see the political spectrum in the faux-Boolean notation of Conservative or Liberal. This is a false dilemma and a destructive force on our social cohesion. It has been fostered by cynical news corporations eager to recruit hearts and minds, and who play off partisan representatives more eager to make the other side look bad than actually perform any constructive form of governance.

There is currently a divide being fostered by the drive for better ratings, and rather than helping us to find common ground to fix what’s broken (a federal government collapsing under its own inefficacy and infighting), the rift is being widened as opportunistic figures from both sides prey upon the concerns of the populace with disingenuous appeals to unfounded fears such as the magnitude of the threat of illegal immigration, winning or loosing the War on Terror, or the *absolute travesty* that there is (was) no national health insurance.

Are there studies or hard evidence behind this? Unfortunately political news is something to which the scientific method is neither suitable to measure, nor is it safe from the manipulations thereof, so no.

On one hand Fox News is really a drama-heavy, substance-light purveyor of Conservative buzz-worthy klatch, while MSNBC has positioned itself to be the “Antithesis” of Fox News; a commune of smug Liberal idealists glad-handing each sensitive paragon of the politically correct class who appears as a guest pundit-du-jour.

Of any of the big news networks, CNN actually appears to be the most centered.  Indeed they are the only network widely accused of both Conservative and Liberal bias at the same time. They also have been demonized by China, and the Middle East as unfairly biased. I tend to be of the mindset that if no one is happy with what you are saying, and what you are saying can be factually verified, then you are probably doing a good job of telling the truth more than half the time… at least in the weird world of politics.

This is not an appeal to switch to CNN or to ignore political news altogether, but rather to seek both sides to the story, pick apart the fuzzy details, and hopefully get a more realistic picture of what is actually going on… not that American Journalism has ever been “fair and balanced” in any case.

Let’s try to remember that what most of us want is for these clowns to do a better job of acting like they actually do something for us so we don’t feel cheated at tax time, and to otherwise be left alone.

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Stump This!

… Ah one of my favorite sources of angst, bemusement, and Plain-Stoopid.  Politics never fails to provide ample examples of idiocy the likes of which no single individual could make manifest.

Political “leaders” continually misspeak, misjudge, and misunderestimate their potential to cause global havoc and yet we continue to follow them merrily down the path of shear lunacy.

My political blog entries will more than likely be much more opinionated and based on generalities than any other category, but such is the nature of politics after all. The primary purpose of these entries is to provoke thought on the subject that is deeper than the current “buzz-worthy” trend of vapid jingo and sloganology.

If your comments in this category consist of “Such-and-Such candidate sucks ‘cause he’s a Stoopid Libtard!”, or “I hate that evil Republican Nazi bitch!” you will be barred from posting.

I am absolutely an advocate of being responsible and actively seeking to make the best choice when you go to vote. I implore you to educate yourselves as much as possible before going to the voting booth however. It is better to not vote if you don’t fully understand the implications of your selections, rather than let a bad candidate or bill through due to ignorance.

When possible I will post summaries of bills, referendums, or candidate records that should be noted.  I live in the Los Angeles area currently, so many of the issues will be out of context, however if you would like certain issues brought to a wider audience from your locale I would be happy to post a guest blog if you care to perform comprehensive research and analysis of the topic.

Lastly – PLEASE VOTE LOCALLY.  It is imperative to get better candidates, and that only happens when we get good mayors, district councils, governors, and so-on in the first place.

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About Religion

As a rationalist I have mixed feelings about topics that come up in the news regarding people’s belief in supernatural forces and entities.  It is my initial reaction to ridicule or attack beliefs that seem irrational or foolish.  It then comes to mind that many individuals that I otherwise respect, or care about hold these or similar beliefs.

On an individual level I see nothing particularly wrong with a belief in some invisible mystical force that informs your understanding of the world around you, your place in it, or your place outside of it – should you need such a narrative to help you sleep soundly.  Furthermore is there really a harm done to the greater portion of society if society really truly believes in a immaterial absurdity – say perhaps the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus?

My compassion is limited when it comes to beliefs held by any individual or group that is both contrary to the nature of reality and has the potential or demonstrated potential to cause harm to others. This includes secular believers such as conspiracy theorists, promoters of pseudo-scientific mysticism, new-age  and/or “alternative” medicine pushers, and of course fundamentalist cults.

Regardless there will be no punches pulled here.  An attempt to differentiate between foolish notions and the people who hold them might be extended, but I will criticize and occasionally ridicule the belief itself.  And then sometimes people are just foolish and deserve to be ridiculed as much as their beliefs do.

I file all articles having to do with an illogical, irrational, or simply wrong conception of the nature of reality under the Religion topic because whether sacred or profane they are reduced to the basic common principle that an individual or group has chosen to “know” something about the world with little or no evidence to back their claim.

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