Friday, February 26, 2010

Benefits of Atheism: Living Life to the Fullest

One of the greatest benefits of being an Atheist is the value it places on this life.  Since Atheists do not believe in any existence after death, such as reincarnation or some kind of afterlife, this time on Earth is all we have.  For me, this greatly increases the motivation to make the best use of the time we have while we are alive.

There are many different dangers of religious thought, but one of the greatest that I see is the idea that this world and our lives are just some kind of opening act to the real show we are told takes place after we die.  Of course, theists take this belief to heart, leading to different consequences for themselves and others.

Some theists respond to this belief by living their life in some kind of preparation for what they are told is the next.  They spend a lot of time reading religious texts, praying, or ministering to others.  There is also a portion of these people who seem to spend more time thinking about the afterlife than they do about this one.  My point in saying this is not that we should pass some laws to forbid them from doing these things.  I believe in freedom and the right of people to live their lives as they wish.  My point is that I wonder how much farther ahead we would be in fields of science that actually produce demonstrably beneficial results if people were to spend their time furthering such progress.

Other theists are affected by religious beliefs in a way more serious than the one just described.  These are theists who, for one reason or another, are not content with their lives.  Perhaps they have a job they hate or are continuing relationships which are harmful to them, such as people told that it is sinful to divorce and will not leave abusive relationships.  Belief in an eternal afterlife filled with pleasure seems to make these people content to take a backseat in their present life.  They are, in essence, waiting for their own deaths, which will bring about what they think is the most important life.  To me, this breeds complacency and can steal a person's life away from them.  I believe that if more people disbelieved in an afterlife, they would be more motivated to make changes in their life leading to happier and more productive lives.  I make efforts to live my life this way and work to make each day important, meaningful, and purposeful.  I am an Atheist with a good and meaningful purpose driven life.

Before finishing, it is critical the reader understands that in no way am I insinuating that somehow all theists do not live life to the fullest.  I have seen many theists who do make the most of their lives each day.  However, I have also been a witness to many people who do not.  In this way, I see religious beliefs regarding the afterlife as being potentially harmful to people.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Misuse of Terms by Moderate and Liberal Supernatural Believers

Looking over the articles on my blogs to date, I think it is safe to say that I have focused my articles on the ideas of what some would call "Conservative Christianity".  I would admit doing so has been unfair.  Certainly, those who would contemporarily be described as "Moderate" or "Liberal" Christians/theists/supernaturalists make their own erroneous claims and conclusions.

Perhaps the most common mistake I see moderate/liberal supernaturalists make is their manipulation and misuse of terms.  As I have been an Atheist for a long time, I am beginning to see these kind of believers do these things in an attempt to hold onto, modify, or "fit" an old belief structure into a new one, which typically seem to come from greater education or the realization of old beliefs contradicting new beliefs which are more accurate.  I also see this as a common step some theists go through on their way to Atheism.

For example, I have heard more than one person say that since "god is love" and since they believe in love, they therefore believe in god.  This attempt at Aristotelian syllogistic logic is quite flawed.  The person is equating god with love, however people understand "god" to be much more than "love" and I would bet the person who makes such statements does as well.  I have little doubt this person thinks of god as possessing some kind of sentience, even if they hold a deistic view of god.  They may also see god as the "cause" for the universe.  This is much more than just love.  Anyway, we already have a word for love.  That word is "love" and we do not need a second which would in no way be different than the first.

Another statement I have heard people say is that "I'm spiritual, not religious".  This statement is quite vague, to say the least.  While this statement clearly means many different things to many different people, I know for some people, this statement means that the person holds onto some supernatural beliefs while not being a formal follower of a particular religion, religious denomination, or religious sect.  In other words, the person seems to be asserting that they hold supernatural beliefs that are individualistic.  I think it is fair to say that this person may not be the type of person who likes the idea of having an authority figure tell them what to believe.

Despite this, the word "spirituality" derives from the word "spirit".  To date, there is no evidence whatsoever that people have a "spirit" or "soul".  These are ancient concepts used by primative people to explain animation.  There is as much evidence for "souls" as there is for Atlantis. Yet the description of people as being "spiritual" often means moral or good.  I have been called a "spiritual" person by people who didn't know I was an Atheist.  I'm curious what they would say if I told them I was an Atheist, but I have never said this to a person who has called me spiritual.  The bottom line is that the word "spiritual" is very vague; so much so that it is almost nonsensical.  I think other words could be put in its place which would be much clearer.

Terms from contemporary physics and other fields of science have been hijacked by New Age pseudoscientists like Deepak Chopra.  So called "quantum healing" and "energy healing" are used by people who are nothing more than modern day snake oil salesmen.  It is clear that these people either are not being intellectually honest or they do not understand basic scientific concepts, such as falsifiability and operational definitions.

We hear the term "energy" being thrown around a lot today, referring to what is called "qi" or "ch'i" in ancient and modern day Chinese culture.  Throughout history there have been different definitions of qi.  The definition I will focus on in this part of the article is "life energy" or "life force".  I think it is true that if people assert things frequently, people will come to believe the assertions are true, even without proof.  People may be surprised to hear this, but there is presently no evidence or proof whatsoever that such "energy" exists.  People have tried to prove that such energy exists, but all have failed.  The assertion that such "life energy" exists is as equally true as the assertion that two headed, cigar smoking unicorns exist.

The term "quantum" from the scientific field of physics is probably the most misused scientific term today.  The word "quantum" refers to quantum mechanics, which is "a set of scientific principles describing the known behavior of energy and matter that predominate at the atomic scale" (wikipedia).  It has nothing to do with healing.  As the definition says, it describes the behaivor of microparticles.  Yet charlatans like Chopra use this and other scientific words in ways never intended to spin a web of gibberish, which sounds interesting, but makes no valid sense.

In conclusion, there really is no difference between the reasonable and logical mistakes that "conservative Christians" make and those that more "liberal" and "moderate" supernaturalists/Christians make.  Both make assertions without offering any proof of what they are talking about.  Each group might as well be talking about and discussing mermaids living on Neptune.

A Response to "Unhappy, Angry Atheists"

There have been times when I have heard theists use the phrases "unhappy Atheists" and "angry Atheists".  They seem to use these adjectives as blanket descriptors for all Atheists.  They also use these generalizations as a way to discredit Atheism all together.  In this article, I'll discuss and respond to these descriptions.

I don't see Atheists as being "angry" or "unhappy" either in general or because of their Atheism.  Again, Atheism is the belief that gods do not exist.  This has nothing to do with anger or unhappiness.  Some theists say, "Atheists are angry at god".  This makes no sense.  I cannot see how someone can be angry at something they believe doesn't exist.  I am in no way angry at any gods in the same way as I am not angry at unicorns or leprechauns. 

Anger and unhappiness are normal human emotions which all people feel at times.  It is a mistake for theists to describe Atheists as being "angry" or "unhappy", just as it is a mistake for Atheists to call theists "angry" or "stupid".  It is a mistake to look at a single event where a person shows an emotion and make an overall generalization that the person is that way most or all of the time.  It would be no different for me to see a Christian get angry and call all Christians angry or dismiss Christianity on the basis of a theist being angry.  The latter is especially true as certain Christian beliefs can be dismissed in far more valid ways.

I am an Atheist and I don't see myself being "angry" or "unhappy" in the least.  On the contrary, I would describe myself as being very happy, content, and at peace.  There is no doubt that I am more happy, content, and at peace as an Atheist than I was as a Christian.  As I grew up and began studying the Bible and Christian beliefs for myself, they made no sense to me and there were parts I found abhorrent.  The articles in this blog describe these thoughts and ideas, especially the article "Thoughts on the Christian God".  The belief system was contradictory and flawed in so many ways that it was ultimately nonsensical.  Therefore, I began looking for a belief system that wasn't contradictory and was true to the greatest degree that we can know what truth is.  For me, it is most important that my beliefs are as true as they can be and I am always ready to dispense with beliefs that are not true, as integrity, honesty and consistency are strong values I hold.

Atheism brings me happiness, peace, serenity, and calmness.  I find these things as a result of having a belief system that is noncontradictory and is supported by the evidence of reality.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Power and Control Wheel and Religion

I'm an Outpatient Psychotherapist and I've been working in the field of mental health for about twenty years.  In college, I volunteered and worked at a domestic violence shelter for around two to three years.  I learned a lot working at the shelter with women and their children.  One of the things the staff there showed me was something called The Power and Control Wheel.

The Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota and is used to educate people about common behaviors and tactics abusers use to maintain power and control over those they abuse.  Based on my own personal experience of working with people in different settings in this field, I would say this model does a good job of describing what abusers do.  The model is based on the premise that the abuser is a man and the abused is a woman, which is most often the case, but not always.  Here is an image of The Power and Control Wheel:

I have used this model in therapy with women who were in abusive relationships and most found it very helpful to see a description of their experiences laid out visually in front of them.

It was some time after I had come to rest comfortably in my Atheism, that I saw this model in a new light.  It seemed to occur in a moment of insight that this model not only described how abusers maintain power and control over their partner, but how certain religions maintain control over their followers.  While what I'm about to discuss applies to many, if not all religions, I'll mainly use the example of Christianity for the purposes of this article.  This is because it is the religion most of my readers will be familiar with.  Clearly, the same analogies could be made to Islam, Judaism and others.  This article will address each part of the eight pieces of this pie graph to demonstrate the similarities:

1.  Using COERCION and THREATS - making and/or threatening to do something to hurt her, threatening to leave her, threatening to commit suicide, threatening to report her to welfare, making her drop charges, and making her do illegal things.

This is applicable to Christianity in many ways.  First, there is the threat that if you do not do what god tells you to do, then you will be sent to hell to be horrifically tortured forever.  Actually, I cannot imagine a greater threat that a human abuser could give to someone they abuse, though perhaps the fact that an abuser could follow through with their threats immediately makes their threats more imminent and therefore are perceived as immediately serious.  This threat by Christianity creates great fear in many or perhaps most believers and I think is one of the main reasons why people are afraid to think certain thoughts or even question their beliefs.  The seriousness of this threat clearly trumps all human threats listed in this piece of the graph, which says something about the abuser.

2.  Using INTIMIDATION - making her afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures; smashing things; destroying her property; abusing pets; and displaying weapons.

Of course, the Bible is rife with examples of god threatening and intimidating not only individual people, but entire civilizations who did not do what it told them to do, so I'll start by looking at how the Christian god was intimidating itself.  The Bible is replete with verses about how important it is to "fear" god.  Now I know that many Christians make excuses for that word, saying "fear" really means "respect", but if that were true, then why not use the word "respect"?  Clearly, it is through threats and intimidation that believers come to fear god and for good reason.  The god of the Bible, in most instances, follows through on it's threats and intimidating words and actions, such as drowning the entire world except for one family and two of every creature (which, of course, would have led to worldwide incest of EVERY living creature).  Now that's incest and destruction of property on a truly epic scale.

Since the Christian god is allegedly all powerful, it needs no weapons to be intimidating.  Of course, what could be a more intimidating display of power than turning a staff into a snake or some other magical act?  A god which is all knowing is also intimidating because of the power differential.  As for abusing animals, I do not recall god abusing pets in an effort to be intimidating, but the god in the Bible was certainly a big fan of animal sacrifices, or of having animals killed to glorify it.

Historically, there are many large scale instances of Christians being intimidating to people who didn't do what they wanted, such as the Inquisition and the Crusades.  The intimidation took the form of "follow us" or "believe what we believe or else".  Today, intimidation by Christians in America does happen to different groups, such as homosexuals and Atheists, while not as widespread or violent as in the past.  Yet, a poll by Newsweek magazine in March 2007 showed that 62% of Americans would refuse to vote for any Presidential candidate who was an Atheist.  This would make any candidate who was an Atheist feel intimidated about being honest.

3.  Using EMOTIONAL ABUSE - putting her down, maing her feel bad about herself, calling her names, making her think she's crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her, and making her feel guilty.

There are so many examples of emotional abuse from Christianity that a list of examples could be a book in and of itself.  The whole concept of being a "sinner" unworthy of god's love is emotionally abusive and tears down a person's self esteem and self concept.  Many Christians consider the song, "Amazing Grace" to be a beautiful song, but the lyrics, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me" are perfect examples of emotional abuse, especially because followers are made to recite such statements over and over again in services.  This is how brainwashing works.  Tell someone something about themselves and have them verbally repeat it over and over again and in time, the person comes to believe it.  The whole premise of Christianity is that humans are unworthy sinners who need to repeatedly ask god for forgiveness.  We have all heard of the installation of "Catholic guilt" into children, but other denominations do the same thing.  Often believers are made to feel guilty about their thoughts and feelings which come involuntarily, such as being told that sexual thoughts towards other are sinful.  Thoughts do not necessarily lead to action when we employ our willpower.  This guilt-inducing, pathologizing of normal thoughts is abusive.


Just had my phone call taken by Tracie and Russell on The Atheist Experience, my favorite TV show!!!  That beat watching any Super Bowl:

The Concept of Miracles

I remember one winter morning when my wife called me from work in tears.  She was very shaken up and told me that on the way to work, she was driving on a four lane highway and lost control of the vehicle she was driving.  The car spun around 360 degrees and came to a stop on the shoulder facing in the right direction.  She said other cars had been around her, but she hadn't hit any.  Her story was shocking and I was relieved beyond words that she was okay.

I also remember retelling the story to others and how most people described what happened as being "miraculous".  After some time had passed, this incident and others that occurred which people describe as being "miraculous" gave me pause to consider the concept of miracles.

First, what is a "miracle" anyway?  Some people may consider a "miracle" to be an event where the impossible happens.  For the sake of this article, I'll call these events Type A Events.  Examples of Type A Events may be a person who is repeatedly and consistently able to walk through a solid brick wall to the other side with direct observation by others, a boulder floating in midair, or a penny appearing on the table I am sitting at right now.  Of course, people claim and make assertions about these kind of events happening, but they are universally unable to demonstrate that these events actually occurred in any valid and reliable way.

However, these are not the kind of "miracles" most people talk about and describe.  The kind I hear people talk about are what I will call Type B Events.  Examples of Type B Events would be a Haitian adule found in rubble a week after the recent earthquake there (who had water near them that they were able to drink), a person winning the lottery, or my wife not hitting any cars during her spinout.  These are not instances of the impossible happening.  They are instances of things happening which are unlikely to happen.

So let's imagine two different hypothetical universes, where Universe One is identical to our own and where a god exists and Universe Two which is identical to ours but where no god exists, people don't have the concept of a god, and things happen by chance.  In Universe Two, Type B Events would still occur, it's just that people wouldn't call the events miraculous.

So what are people who call Type B Events "miracles" thinking the world would be like without what they call miracles?  Basically that universe would be one where no unlikely events or close calls would ever occur.  Car crashes would either not occur at all, or if they did, they would always result in a horrible accident and death.  People in Haiti would have survived unscathed or they would die.  There would also be no lotteries.  I think this would make quite a funny Saturday Night Live sketch if one were made for Atheists.

I think of this universe that we live in as one ruled by chance and it certainly makes more sense that way.  Good things happen to both good and bad people and bad things happen to both good and bad people.  To me, I never have to ask "why" some random event happened.  Sometimes things just happen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Favorite Poem

My favorite poem is "Magic" by Shel Silverstein:

Sandra's seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermain sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.