Sunday, December 13, 2009

RE: Dominion

Well, it has been a while since I posted anything in here, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with the holidays. You know how it is. I hope to have some posts about Christmas to throw at you soon, but in the meantime, I want to give you something to hold you over. So how about this: A comment on one of my old entries, and my reply! The thrills never end. Let’s get to it!

Original Post

Robert Walker said...

You are correct, in a way. We do indeed have dominion over all the earth. And, we may at times want to control all of it. But what should separate us from "beastly protocol" is a central value system. Hence, the rest of the bible. I'm sure if man "ruled" his "dominion" as God stated within Genesis, we would be fine. But we have strayed from that "value system" via independant "higher thinking" most of which end in "isms" (Socialism, Atheism, Denialism, etc).. Once we started "managing" the earth, as God intended, out of our own "wisdom" instead of by HIS value system, things did indeed begin to "go to hell in a handbasket." So I do indeed agree with yo my friend..

December 1, 2009 6:52 AM

My reply:

@Robert Walker: Thanks for your comment. A few questions for you, if I may?

"But what should separate us from "beastly protocol" is a central value system. Hence, the rest of the bible."

Right off the bat, I want to know: Why the Bible over, say, the Koran? I know you'll probably tell me it's because the Bible is true and other books aren't, but I have no reason to agree with you unless you provide some evidence.

"I'm sure if man "ruled" his "dominion" as God stated within Genesis, we would be fine. But we have strayed from that "value system"..."

Excessive quotation marks aside, can you be a bit more specific about what God tells us in Genesis with regard to taking care of the Earth? As far as I am aware, the story goes that God made this awesome garden, threw Man in it, and told him to rule the animals. But the animals weren't wild, and Man didn't need to farm to keep himself alive, so ruling it was pretty easy. After the Fruit event (which I like to call the Biggest Cosmic Setup Ever), God kicked Man out without so much as a "how-to" pamphlet. I don't recall any rules in Genesis about how to handle floods, tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, blizzards... or how to deal with animals that wanted to eat Man, rather than the other way around... or how to balance the desires of a species that was told to "be fruitful and multiply" with the desires of, oh, every other species on the planet, so that one doesn't snuff out the other. I guess what I'm asking is this: can you be a bit more specific about the "value system" you mentioned?

"Once we started "managing" the earth, as God intended, out of our own "wisdom" instead of by HIS value system, things did indeed begin to "go to hell in a handbasket.""

Again, what exactly do you have in mind when you say "HIS value system"? And moreover, unless you're an advocate for living in trees and eating nothing but berries (which I somehow doubt you are), I don't see how any value system could avoid stepping on the toes of other species. According to Genesis, God put Man here to be the ruler of everything, and "fill the earth and subdue it." How are we supposed to do that without bumping off species that would diminish our survival?

I think you missed my point in the last paragraph of my post. It reads: "Whatever the reason, too many people fail to see the difference between earning our place at the top of the food chain and deserving said position. We fought our way to the top. We were not put here."

We're just like every other species because we evolved just like every other species. Humans were lucky enough to be the first species to develop an intellect capable of the kind of thought we've come to take for granted. Along with that intellect came a weird feeling of entitlement: we feel like we were gifted our place at the top of the food chain, rather than realizing the truth; that is, the fact that our species struggled for millions of years to get to this point. If just a few things had gone awry, humanity as we know it wouldn't exist. Perhaps something else would instead? A reptilian race, or a canine or bovine one... who knows? The point here is this: there is simply no way to reconcile what the Bible says God wants us to do (multiply, dominion, subdue, all that) and how we actually feel about doing just that (I hope I'm not the only one who feels bad for wiping out other species). If, however, we face up to our evolutionary back-story, we’ll realize that this is just the way we are, and there isn’t anything wrong with it unless we deem it so. Species come and go. That’s life. It is, to put in simply and in one word, natural. And the sooner we get that through our heads, I think, the sooner we’ll be able to adopt a more reasonable, thoughtful, rational attitude about being the most powerful creatures on the planet.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Another Thanksgiving come and gone. I spent the day feasting with family and friends. The air was filled with delicious smells, laughter, and the warmth of hearts sharing their love. It was a really nice day, and I couldn’t have asked for better. I want to pause here a moment and talk about this holiday’s buzzword: gratitude.

Back when I was a believer, I made a habit of thanking God before every meal. I had a standard prayer that I’d rattle off under my breath, something along the lines of, “Dear Lord, thank you for bringing me here to enjoy this meal. Please bless my family and friends, especially those in most need of your help.” I felt that this covered the bases pretty well; get some thankfulness in there, and also pitch in a word for those close to me. It was nice. It felt like a good thing to be in the habit of doing.

But what did being grateful to God really mean to me? The feeling was rooted in my understanding of God’s role in my life, which I didn’t exactly hammer down with any great clarity at the time. It went something like this: God created me. He also created this food, and the reason He did that was so I’d have something to eat. He has been guiding me through my life, encouraging me to make certain choices, and those choices have led me here. And I’m happy here. So I should thank God for His assistance in reaching this place.

Thanking God was, for me, a lot like thanking one’s parents for dinner. They “made” you, they put the food in front of you, and they guided you through life thus far. It’s an easy comparison to make, really.

And all of this is probably pretty obvious or generic; I imagine this is how most believers understand their relationship with God.

I wonder now, looking back, why I didn’t ask more questions about this. Actually, no, I don’t wonder. I know why. I was taught not to ask questions. But if I had asked questions, I would’ve quickly found some problems.

First of all, there are the big questions that the situation calls for: how exactly does God “guide” me anywhere? How does he encourage me to make certain choices, while still allowing my will to be free (and more importantly, the wills of the people in my life who are asking me to make the choices in question)? If God has my life all mapped out in his head, do my “choices” even really matter? Could I have ended up anywhere other than where I was just then, sitting at the table with the plate in front of me?

If we put all that stuff aside and just run with it, a second worry comes up: why thank God? Not just for the food, but for anything? Let me explain with an analogy: say I release you into some kind of gigantic maze, like the ones scientists use on rodents, and observe you from above, to see how you navigate it. I’ve spent lots of time making sure this maze is deviously complicated; there are dead-ends and roadblocks everywhere. Now, I’ve also set little pieces of “cheese” along the way for you (whatever reward “cheese” is depends on the person, I suppose). And as you stagger through this test, wondering where you’re supposed to go and why the hell you’ve ended up in such horrendous situation anyway, you come upon these pieces of cheese. Would you be grateful to me, the test maker (by the way, I’ve also left a bundle of old notes about me, the scientist, written by previous maze-runners. I haven’t actually shown myself to you or anything crazy like that)? Would you express your thankfulness to me for the bountiful rewards I’ve seen fit to give you?

I wouldn’t. You can’t buy my love, God. You can’t just give me stuff and expect me to do whatever you ask. I thought that was what free will was all about? Being able to choose whether or not to love God? The problem here is this: if God is going to put all these material rewards in front of me and then wiggle his eyebrows knowingly and go, “Eh? Eh?”, then you can count me right out of that nonsense. Even the promise of an immaterial reward is just that, a promise. Until I see the pay dirt, I don’t have much of a reason to be swayed by such a reward.

I’ll try to sum this up: I don’t see much reason to thank God for his “gifts”, because they come with a hidden agenda. There is, to borrow the old adage, no such thing as a free lunch. If I cram in a mouthful of the delicious apple pie in front of me, I’m in essence saying, “Ok God, I’ll bite. I’ll accept your gifts, and with them the knowledge that you put them there so that I might believe in you.”

Don’t you see? God has a monopoly on the situation! Where else am I going to go? If I want to turn down his gifts and strike out on my own, I don’t have any other options.

The reason I exist is because God made me; therefore, I begin the game indebted to him. Again I go back to the maze analogy (apt, I think, because a lot of people view this life as a “test”): sure, while trapped in the maze, I might be enjoying these rewards the scientist left for me, but I’m stuck in the maze because of the scientist! I didn’t have any option but to be here! So to be grateful to him for trapping me in a labyrinth and then throwing down treats is a bit… silly. Maybe if I’d been given the option of not being in the maze, then I could see saying “thanks”. But I didn’t get to make that choice. So these “gifts” are permanently tainted by the fact that they’re only put there to placate me and coerce me to follow God’s will.

A kidnapper might be nice and give you candy, but he's still a kidnapper.

All right, enough about this. Thank goodness none of it is true: God didn’t give me my meals because there isn’t a God. Phew.

Thanksgiving is, now, an even better holiday for me. Why? Because instead of thanking some invisible man with a beard for the mountains of grub, I can give my gratitude to those who truly deserve it: my family and friends. I can thank them for being a part this brief, fleeting experience we call living. I can be happy that my brain has produced an epiphenomenon called “me”, and thus I’m able to think about how much I enjoy turkey and stuffing. I can just be glad to be alive now, at this very exciting juncture in human history, instead of a thousand years ago or five hundred years ago or any of the other really nasty time periods prior to the present.

Most of all, I can give thanks for the goodness in the hearts of my fellow human beings. That’s what I was most grateful for this Thanksgiving: the beauty and compassion of everyone around me.

Hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day. I certainly did.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Moral Relativism, or Why Everything Isn't OK

I discovered something interesting tonight, and it has me thinking more than usual. Which is saying a lot, since I spend quite a bit of time thinking. I learned—via a somewhat heated discussion over and after dinner—that my father is a moral relativist, or at least comes across as such (whether he’d stick by his guns under pressure is a question I’m not currently qualified to answer). Now, by this I mean the following: he believes that what is right and wrong is relative to the culture and society of the people who perform the action. Moreover, his explanation suggested that he saw right and wrong being contingent upon the beliefs of the actor. What’s right for me may not be right for you. Morality is subjective. There is no objective right or wrong. If I perform an action that I believe is morally right, then it is morally right.

Just to be sure I understood him, I asked him point blank: “So it’s 1785. Is slavery wrong?” He said it wasn’t wrong then, but when we look back with current understanding, we see it as a morally impermissible action. Or rather, some of us do. Because I’m sure there are still people out there in the world who advocate slavery. And according to my father’s theory, they’re right. According to his moral relativism, insofar as I understand it, for such advocates to enslave other people is not only morally permissible; it’s a good thing to do. A right thing to do.

In having this conversation with him (the rest of my family watched as our minds clashed), I realized that I couldn't exactly explain what I felt was wrong with the theory. Every point I made was rebutted in a way that, while logically consistent and rigorous, still felt somehow off to me. Moral relativism is a theory that doesn’t require any sort of deity’s intervention, and that’s something I can most certainly get behind. But on the whole I feel it to be untenable, for reasons that I find myself unable to adequately explain. Perhaps if I raise some of the objections I’ve been contemplating, I’ll discover more about why I feel that this theory isn’t worth grabbing hold of.

If I were to dive back into this debate with my dad (and I intend to, once I’ve formulated my thoughts a bit more), I would want him to answer some questions for me. They are as follows:

1) “Under your theory (your form of moral relativism), what’s right and wrong are determined by the actors themselves. So if I commit some action that I believe is right, are you justified in telling me that it’s wrong to commit that action?”

Under your theory, dad (and I’m sorry that I have to bring this into it, but it’s the best example I can think of), Hitler was a saint. Hitler did exactly what he believed was right. According to your system, what he did was right... for him. Oh sure, you don’t think it was right. You’d tell him he was doing something bad, something wrong, something that shouldn’t be done. But how can you justify that position? Certainly, the action is wrong for you to commit, because you believe it to be a wrong action. But Hitler doesn’t. So what right do you have to say anything about his action?

2) “If I am presented with a moral dilemma that I have not encountered before, how does your theory assist me in determining the correct course of action? In other words, when I’m faced with an ethical problem, what criteria do I use to determine the morally right decision?”

If there are no such criteria, then the moral theory provides no way for its proponents to determine right action, except the following axiom: “Do what you believe is right, and it will be the right thing to do.” What if I don’t know what I want to do? What if, in looking at a situation, I find both actions to be equally offensive, or desirable? How am I to make any kind of judgment call about what I should do in those circumstances?

3) “If moral action is determined by the actor, then how can we ever say, ‘He did the right thing,’ and have that statement actually be meaningful?”

My father talked at length about how people needed to have “constructs” in order to get through their lives, and I agreed with him there. His point was that everyone needs to have some kind of “belief system” about the world. I’m cool with that. I have a “belief system”, based on reason, empiricism, and evidence, but like anything it’s subject to my own biases (which I attempt to remove as much as possible). Anyway, I’m getting off track: the thrust of this question has to do with comparisons. If Smith commits an action that Smith believes is right, then he’s done the right thing (under your theory). If Jones commits the same action, but Jones believes it’s the wrong thing to do, then Jones has done something wrong. So the same action can, depending upon the actor, have different moral value? What this means is that, in essence, I cannot praise someone for doing the right thing or scold someone for doing the wrong thing, because what’s right and wrong are all based on what they think is right and wrong. So there are, in Catholic terms, no saints or sinners. Everyone does what they think is right, and that’s all there is to it. No one deserves a pat on the back or a slap across the knuckles.

4) “According to your theory, what’s right and wrong in a society are largely determined by the majority or a vocal minority. If this is the case, then isn’t this a glorified version of ‘might makes right’?”

This objection is based more on emotion than the others, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. The example I used in our discussion was gay marriage. According to this theory, if the majority of people in this country believe gay marriage is wrong, then it’s wrong. But moreover, if a minority of people believe it’s wrong, and they just happen to have the necessary power to change the laws and minds of those around them, then it’s still wrong. I guess what I’m getting at here is this: it doesn’t seem correct to me that the strongest group in a society gets to determine what is morally permissible or impermissible for that society. Moreover, it doesn't seem correct to say that actions committed by other cultures—the example I used was female circumcision, a horrific practice still performed in many African nations—are morally right because the majority of the culture believes that the action is right.

I think all in all, I have a problem with the following scenario: Say that, hypothetically, a man comes in to see my father at work. “Hello sir,” he says. “I have unfortunate news. It is my belief that people in your line of work are moral monsters who don’t deserve to live. Thus, I have a moral obligation to kill you.” The man pulls a gun and shoots my father dead. Questions: Would I be mad about this? Yes! Would I want to do something about it? Of course! Would I be correct in saying that the man did something wrong by killing my father in cold blood? No, I would not. After all, the man did what he thought was right, and thus, according to my father’s theory, he committed a morally permissible action. I can clamor for revenge or justice all I want, but in no way do I have any sort of moral justification for doing so.

That just seems wrong to me! Of course I would be morally justified in seeking justice or revenge against my father’s murderer. I don’t see how it could possibly be any other way. My father’s moral relativist stance leads, I feel, directly into chaos, for after all, if whatever I believe is the right thing to do—no matter how twisted, sadistic, or malicious my thoughts may be—is the right thing to do, then everything becomes morally permissible, and I would be morally justified in committing any action whatsoever. When all of morality is subjective, it really doesn’t even make sense to say that an action is “right” or “wrong”. I can just do as I please, and the only argument anyone can use against me is, “I don’t like that, so don’t do it.” Were someone to call me any name in some way related to morality—“evil” springs to mind—I could immediately counter with, “I’m not evil. This is the right thing to do.” And I would be completely justified in saying this.

Moral relativism of the kind my father seems to ascribe to is untenable because it, in essence, annihilates right and wrong, and instead replaces them with an “anything goes” system, under which anyone can be justified in doing anything they want. As much as I am against the idea of moral absolutism—the view that certain actions are always wrong, no matter what—I can’t help but feel that this view put forth by my old man is a bit too far in the opposite direction. Certainly I don’t want a system where every action has a moral value that cannot be altered no matter the circumstances, but at the same time I don’t want a system where no action has that status. Like most things in life, moderation appears to be the key to morality.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Humanist Symposium #45

Fellow humans:

Thank you for tuning your Feeds to tonight’s presentation. As mandated by law, we are required to remind you not to engage in full-mind activities while driving, operating machinery, or performing any other task that may require the majority of your mental capacity to perform correctly. Remember, nourishing your mind can be dangerous if done without regard for your surroundings. Feed Safely™.

The International Council of Historians is most pleased to present tonight’s edition of: Humanist Relics.

*cue exciting music and dramatic, colorful title screen*

Here on Humanist Relics, we open the ICH archives and showcase some of the greatest works ever created by human minds. It is our ambition to bring the history of Humanism to the world so that all humans may know and remember the struggles our forbearers went through to actualize a society built on truth, reason, and the pursuit of equality.

Tonight’s piece is one of the crown jewels in our collection of timeless Humanist writings. It is with great honor that we present to you the following archival data, entitled: The Humanist Symposium #45.

Taken from the “Internet”, and written in 2009 (just three years before… well, we all know what happened in 2012 from our history classes, don’t we?), this collection of writings is an outstanding microcosm of Humanist thought during that time period. We’ve broken down the original long piece into a few subgenres and taken the liberty of reformatting them to meet current data specifications, for easier user processing. (Please note: All written data has been translated from Old New English to Modern Word. For the data in its original Old New English format, please contact ICH.) If your Feed is not equipped with the necessary emulators to run this ancient program, please activate this link to download the appropriate drivers.

And now, without further ado, tonight’s datastream:

Topic One: On Being Humanist - Writings about the world from the viewpoint of an atheist/humanist, and what it means to live in a world guided by humanist principles. (A note to our viewers: These pieces were written prior to the adoption of Humanism as the global worldview! A fascinating look into life as part of a growing minority population.)

TitleFunerals and Christianity

Author – Amanda ; Original archiveFree to be Me

Notable quotation – “I’m accustomed to Southern conservative Christian funerals being a ‘salvation’ sermon instead of a standard eulogy, but I guess I’d never really paid attention to it before because I was so involved. Basically, the message boiled down to ‘I know he’s in heaven; if you want to see him again, get saved!’ There was also your standard variation of hell sucks, if you want to avoid it get saved! Where, in either of these two examples, is there a motive of becoming a Christian because you believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ?

TitleThe Purpose of Life

Author – PaulJ ; Original archiveNotes from an Evil Burnee

Notable quotation – “In the absence of a religious purpose for human life (for instance, "the glorification of God"), it might seem reasonable for perpetuation of the species to be offered as a substitute. But reproduction is simply what humans, and other species, do. If they didn't, they would become extinct. Reproduction is not, therefore, a purpose, but simply the result of evolution. Those that are best at reproduction (which includes being good at surviving to reproductive age) are the ones who pass on their genes to the most offspring.

TitleLife's Value

Author – the chaplain ; Original archiveAn Apostate's Chapel

Notable quotation – “One does not need to believe in divine sanction to treasure life. Rather, all one needs is an appreciation for the wonder of a cosmos that humankind is just beginning to understand. As far as we can tell so far, life forms play small roles on the stage of the cosmos. Organic beings may be relatively few in number, but we’re pretty amazing nonetheless. This shouldn’t surprise you. After all, it’s often the bit characters that steal the show.

TitleIn Honor of Terry Pratchett

Author – Ebonmuse ; Original archiveDaylight Atheism

Notable quotation – “If you're an atheist and a regular reader of sci-fi and fantasy, you probably know the name Terry Pratchett - and if you don't, you should. He's the award-winning and much-loved author of Discworld, a series of fantasy novels set in a flat, circular world that's carried through space on the back of a giant tortoise…Pratchett is also an atheist, and many of the Discworld books (including my personal favorite, Small Gods) show the virtues of atheism and humanism - no small feat in a riotous fantasy world where, as the author puts it, ‘the gods had a habit of going round to atheists' houses and smashing their windows’.

TitleComing Out Atheist: Is Losing Your Relationship Worth It?

Author – VJack ; Original archiveAtheist Revolution

Notable quotation – “It is fairly common for people in a relationship to be as attracted to the potential of someone rather than to the actual person. And yet, it has been my experience that such relationships are often doomed if they do not quickly progress beyond this point. If I am in love with what I want someone to be rather than what they really are, I'm resigning myself to being perpetually disappointed and unhappy. One could reasonably argue that this wouldn't be a relationship at all but merely a form of narcissism. It is difficult to imagine it working in the long run.

TitleMarriage, or why I really really want same sex couples to be able to marry.

Author – Michelle Bell ; Original archiveThe Gaytheists

Notable quotation – “My emotional tie up is more than wanting equal rights, and it’s more than fighting against religion having a bitchfit that they can’t make the government their happy fun-time bigotry playground. I guess I have a little bit of a confession to make – I want same-sex marriage because I’m selfish.

Topic Two: Humanism in Action – Writings about the ways in which Humanism and Humanists are working to make the world a better place for all people. (A note to our viewers: As commonplace as Humanist principles now are in law and social life, there was once a time when Humanist organizations were viewed as fringe and looked down upon by the majority of society. These activists were well ahead of their time, and should rightly be regarded as heroes for their efforts despite great opposition.)

Title - The gay marriage: All animals are equal but some are (apparently) more equal than others

Author – Robert Nijssen ; Original archive - Gibburt

Notable quotation – “If you would want to defend that you have a certain right, but you would not want to extend that same right to your neigbor [sic], there is an easy strategy to follow: first find a distinguishing quality between you and your neighbor…an example could be that the neighbor wears glasses. Then you take that feature and argue that because of this feature he should not be allowed to have this right, for example people with glasses are not allowed to use the public bus system. And presto no more people with glasses on public buses (this last step of course will only work if you can convince enough other people of your idea).”

TitleWorld Food Day

Author – Michael Fridman ; Original archivea Nadder!

Notable quotation – “But suppose we could teleport food. Surprisingly, this can cause more harm than good. The USA gives more food than any other country. But its policy (or law?) is that it must be US-made food brought on US Navy ships. This floods the local market with food, driving prices down and sending local farmers into even greater poverty. And ironically it’s local farmers who’re most likely to go hungry. Their crop becomes worthless so they can’t sell it to buy other produce they need. So even giving food is no silver bullet.”

TitleRepair Job

Author – Secular Guy ; Original archiveTowards a Rational America and an Enlightened Judaism

Notable quotation – “If nothing else, it's in our own self-interest to try to improve society and in turn benefit from these efforts. Moreover, through such responsible living perhaps people will mature ethically and will outgrow the need to look to an imaginary supreme being for guidance. Under these circumstances, ‘God’ will wither away, and civilization can then advance, liberated at last from the constraints of theism.

TitleBrights co-founder on atheists and the 'non-religion religion ballgame' (video)

Author – Paul Fidalgo ; Original archiveSecularism Examiner

Notable quotation – “…but I also think that if the Brights approach adoption from the standpoint of ‘being an atheist is too stigmatizing,’ they will continue to have trouble, as most momentum that I've seen is on the side of pushing broad acceptance and pride in the a-word…They will have to sell themselves as an augmentation, a clarification, much as the term ‘humanist’ is, if they wish to woo more atheists to their particular cause.

TitleScientific Thinking to Guide Compassion

Author – Andrew Bernardin ; Original archivethe evolving mind

Notable quotation – “But I do realize that simply throwing money at a problem can miss the mark. What the practice of throwing money at a problem accomplishes is the comforting thought that you are doing something, and sometimes little else. I want to help, but not if in the end it’s not helping.

Topic Three: Appreciating Humanism – Writings about gaining a deeper understanding of Humanist principles, tenets, and concepts. (A note to our viewers: It may seem strange to write articles about topics that are now commonly taught in schools and public forums, but at the time these pieces were written Humanist ideas were still in development. Historical archives such as this one are enthralling because they show the development of Humanism over time.)

TitleWhy The New Humanism

Author – Greg Epstein ; Original archiveThe New Humanism

Notable quotation – “It is also important to note that the New Humanism and the New Atheism absolutely share the same views on questions such as whether God exists (almost certainly not), or how best to understand the nature of the world around us (science and empiricism). And as to whether we ought to fight for such causes as the separation of Church and State, the teaching of evolution, and the promotion of atheism and Humanism as valid, patriotically American ways of life, our answers are also the same as those of the New Atheists -- you bet your life we ought to.

TitleScience and the Worship of Truth

Author – Eric Michael Johnson ; Original archiveThe Primate Diaries

Notable quotation – “While religious proponents believe that there is a One Truth that has been revealed through their sacred book, science operates under the assumption that human reason is finite and that a scientific theory is only valid until further evidence either refines or discards it for a better explanation. Science is never finished. It's a continuing work in progress and any accepted theory is merely ‘provisionally true’ for the time being.

TitleA Few Words on the Dangers of Language

Author – E.M. Cadwaladr ; Original archivee.m. cadwaladr

Notable quotation – “…Social identity is, as it were, familial identity writ large. It is an expression not of the need for a reliable source of knowledge, but rather it is the expression of the need for a reliable source of personal context and security. To be either a Christian, a communist, or even (to an admittedly lesser extent) a certified public accountant is to project what is essentially a family identity onto a group of individuals far too large and diverse to be a family. It is to expect a certain level of protection from inclusion in this group, even if, in some cases, this protection only amounts to a vague sense of social legitimacy.

TitleAtheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality: Or, Why What We Don't Believe Matters

Author – Greta Christina ; Original archiveGreta Christina's Blog

Notable quotation – “There is an impossibly huge infinitude of things that we could imagine about the universe. Only the tiniest fraction of those things are actually true. If we're going to be truly open to the mind-altering magnificence and hilarious freakiness of the universe, if we're going to truly understand and accept and explore what is true about the universe to the best of our ability, we have to be willing to say ‘No’ to the overwhelming majority of things we can imagine about it. We have to be rigorous in sorting out reality from unreality... and relentless in our rejection of unreality.

TitleReverse-Engineering Religion, part four: A Humanist Creation Myth

Author – D ; Original archiveShe Who Chatters

Notable quotation – “So see your vanity for what it is, embrace your vexation with all your spirit, and chase after the wind with a joyous heart. In the fullness of time, there shall be no reckoning, for everything that there is shall return to the nothing from whence it came. Fear nothing, and hold to the Law. All the World is open to you now, so take up understanding and love and pleasure, and be at peace with your mortality. This is the final mystery, for as death comes to us all, in death no one knows any thing, and so even your love and understanding and pleasure shall pass from you even as you yourself pass into the nothing.

This concludes our program for tonight. Tune in for our next show on November 29th, 2009, when we’ll be presenting The Humanist Symposium #46 (due to restrictions from our network hosts, this presentation will be broadcast on an alternative Feedquency entitled You Made Me Say It!) Thanks again for your interest in the diverse, fascinating, and inspiring history of Humanism!

Be well, and may prosperity and peace flourish in the lives of all of humankind.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hey, look at that! It's death!

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. It’s a very big part of a lot of peoples’ lives. People deny things all the time, for starters: “No, I didn’t know about that rule.” “Of course I didn’t sleep with her!” “I’ve never seen that Peruvian cocaine in my life!” But I’m talking about something deeper. Something darker. Something more pervasive, and less easy to brush aside as simple lying.

Let me try to explain by starting with the thought that prompted this… um, thought. I was contemplating death—something I do with greater frequency than I’d prefer, it seems—and I came to the realization that I live in a form of denial almost every day. As an atheist, I don’t believe in an afterlife. Which means when I die, that’s it. Doesn’t matter what I do during my life, I won’t get anything for it at the end. Now, I’m getting a lot better at accepting this as the way things are and finding fulfillment in it, but even so, there’s a nagging worry. No matter how much fame and fortunate I may amass, I won’t be able to change the following fact: one day, the universe will end. All humans will die. Our planet will be destroyed, our civilization lost, and no one will ever know we existed. It’s sad, but it’s true. And knowing this, how can I find much motivation to create anything? It’ll all be annihilated anyway.

Well, that thought was certainly a downer. Yet I’m writing this blog entry, and I write in my journal, and I write stories, and I’m working on a novel. Why? When placed side by side with the knowledge of the ultimate end of the universe, creating things seems like a futile endeavor. So what keeps me going?

Denial. Subconscious, unaware denial, but denial nonetheless. I just pretend it isn’t true. I put the thought out of my head and focus on the task at hand. After a short time of doing this, the thoughts are completely gone and I’m able to devote myself fully to any creative task I might be undertaking. Denial is a great tool for me, it seems.

Perhaps another analogy is in order. I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a chasm. If I want to accomplish anything, I need to keep my eyes zeroed in on something other than the chasm. Sure, I know in the back of my head that someday someone will push me and everything I’ve ever made into that black pit, but by pretending the pit isn’t there, I’m able to actually stay focused on my work. I deny reality to maintain my sanity.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that. Maybe I should? After all, isn’t that the underlying motivation for a lot of people when it comes to belief in the afterlife? They don’t want to face the fact that death is final, so they embrace a comforting thought, regardless of its truth value or how certain they are of its actuality. Is this what I do?

Well, no. Not really. Not even close, actually.

I don’t pretend that I’m not going to die. I don’t pretend that there’s something to look forward to after this life runs its course. I know full well that death is death, the end, goodbye, game over. Even when I’m at my most productive, I can look at the things I believe and find “death is final” among them. So perhaps denial isn’t the best word for this.

Yeah. That’s right. Denial isn’t the right word. I think I know what the word is.


I keep myself busy so that I don’t have time to focus on matters of mortality. In doing so, I don’t deny the truth of the proposition; I simply avoid thinking about it altogether. In that sense, I still do something that believers do—not think critically about what I believe—but I feel that this is simply the way life is, and if we were to do otherwise, we’d drive ourselves mad. Believers live unexamined lives because they’ve been taught to do so, and sometimes they know that examining their beliefs would result doubt. I live an unexamined life when I need to get other things done. But the key difference is this: I examine my life. I look at it with great frequency. Many believers do not.

Are they just doing what I do, though? Being distracted? I really don’t know. I feel like I’ve gotten very far from my original topic here. Guess I’ll just call this entry good and leave with this final comment: I don’t pretend that death isn’t waiting for me. I just ignore it when I need to get some living done.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Horrors of Atheism

I’m something of a horror buff. I won’t lie: I get a kick out of things that send most people fleeing in terror. In particular, I’m a fan of psychological horror. You know, the kind that makes you wonder whether you’re going insane? The kind that slowly creeps into your psyche, pushing aside what you know about reality to make room for demented fantasies? The kind that makes you jump at the slightest sound, see shapes in the dark where you know nothing lurks, and feel a gnawing sense of something being just, well, wrong with everything around you? That’s my cup of tea.

To change the topic entirely—but not, I assure you, without good reason—I must say that October is an awesome month. I think the most interesting thing about it is Halloween. Let’s take a moment and look at this holiday. It’s based on pagan rituals from yesteryear, yet few Christians I’ve met feel anything but affection for the event. It’s the one day of the year when jumping out of bushes with a fake chainsaw and a hockey mask to frighten children is considered socially acceptable (whereas doing this on any other day would likely result in bodily injury, jail time, or both). It’s a weird concept, all around: why do we dress up like monsters? Why do we give away candy to strangers? Why do we let our thoughts dwell on death, misery, and horrors too grim to imagine for more than a fleeting moment? If you explained this holiday to someone from outside American culture, I think they’d find it downright strange.

“So what?” you may be asking yourself, clever devil that you are. “Where is this going?” I’m getting to my point. Bear with me a moment or two longer.

As someone who appreciates horror, and psychological horror in particular, I derive unique pleasure from letting my mind wander to such realms as no mortal dare tread. Pushing out into the brink of madness is an exciting experience. At no time is this more deliciously topical than in the weeks prior to All Hallow’s, and I take every opportunity to indulge in creepy films, books, and video games during the month of October. But since I became an atheist—perhaps it would be better put as “realized I am an atheist”—I’ve discovered an unnerving—ironically, almost more disturbing than the horror I so enjoy—change in my appreciation of all things scary.

The change is thus: I don’t get as scared as I used to. Now, there may be many reasons for this: I’m growing up and thus feel more capable of warding off any boogiemen who might assail me; I’ve been exposed to so much horror that it takes more to frighten me; perhaps something else altogether. One possible cause, and the one I will now expound upon briefly, is this: I’m harder to scare because I’m firmly rooted in reality. As an atheist, I understand the power of the real world. I understand better than most how to live a life dedicated to believing true things, to following the course of the evidence wherever it leads, and most importantly, to dismissing ideas for which I have no logical backing. Like ghosts. And zombies. And haunted towns. And evil eldritch gods from beyond the stars.

Part of the draw of horror is the thrill of being afraid. We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s fun to be scared. But being scared only works if there’s a legitimate reason to be scared, or alternatively, if one can convince oneself of such. In other words, the easier it is for a person to find something to be afraid of, the more likely they are to be afraid. And unfortunately, for someone who is as committed to the actual as I am, that task has become exponentially harder. It’s not as simple as wondering if there might actually be a real, unliving spook lurking in the darkened closet. There isn’t. I know there isn’t. The odds of there being such a thing are infinitesimal. Perhaps it’s a flaw in me, rather than an aspect of being an atheist, this inability to be as frightened by the unknown as I once was, but now that I’m a non-believer, the darkness isn’t brimming with demons and supernatural forces out for blood. All I’ll find there are the things I’d find if it were lit: furniture, coats hung awkwardly on chairs, curtains blowing in the wind, and just that damn cat again.

Now, although this new, shall we say, mental shielding I’ve developed has made it harder for me to enjoy the macabre, it also has benefits. I’m even less afraid of the dark. I can stride confidently into a “haunted” house or “spooky” old cemetery without so much as a flinch. And on a slightly different note, I can make a more sophisticated assessment of the effectiveness of the horror I do partake in. My evaluation is simple: if it scares me, it’s pretty damn good stuff. After all, it takes a lot more to spook me now than it used to. So if something gives me a chill up my spine and causes me to peer into the blackness around me with wide, panicked eyes, I know I’ve found a truly captivating work.

Being an atheist hasn’t ruined Halloween so much as… put it to the test. This holiday used to scare me with both hands tied behind its back. If the things that go bump in the night really want to get under my fresh atheist skin, they’re gonna need to take it to the next level. And I hope they do… because I’ll be waiting with a double-barreled shotgun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sell the Vatican, Feed the World

Yeah, I know, posting a video doesn't count as a real post. But this was just way too hilarious not to stick up here. Grabbed it off of PZ Myers' blog:

As an addendum, and so as to not just miss out on an opportunity to jump on a soapbox for a second, let me say this: she might be on to something. Not in a literal way, no sir. But still... think about it. Why does the Pope live in a palace? Why does the Vatican store treasure? What, does it make God happy to look down on piles of gold and whatnot? (as an aside, why gold of all things? It's not even that great an element). If the Vatican liquidated its assets, I'm sure it would find itself with all the money it needed to fill the coffers of its churches around the globe (although the thought of chucking more money to individual parishes does give me pause; abuse cover-ups, anyone?). No more pledge drives, no more tithes... well, for a while at least. But back to my main point: if so much of Christianity is about forsaking the wealth of the world, then why does the Vatican have archives full of valuable artifacts? As Indiana Jones would say, "It belongs in a museum!" Even if they didn't want to sell it, couldn't they put it out for people to see? After all, I suspect that's one of the main arguments that would be put against me were I to bring this up with a church official: "It's priceless artwork!" If that's true, why keep it hidden away underground?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear (hypothetical) readers:

I have not abandoned this blog. Work and life transitions are keeping me occupied, and thus my free time in which to write posts has been drastically diminished. Until I can get into a steady schedule, I'm afraid my posts will be sparse. But rest assured: there will be more.

Thanks for reading. I hope to have something new for you very soon.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Supernova Worry

I just came up with a silly little argument. It contains a fairly large amount of reasoning that many Christians would reject outright—not on the basis of the reasoning being faulty, but on the basis of it conflicting with Biblical “science”—so I don’t know how far it’ll get me, but oh well. I’m going to call it…

The Supernova Worry

I feel that this would be better laid out as a narrative rather than in premise format, so that’s what I’ll do.

Suppose God exists. Suppose He designed the universe and everything in it. Moreover, suppose the Bible is accurate in its depiction of the creation of the universe. God spent a couple days creating everything else out there, from galaxies to black holes to comets, and then devoted a huge amount of time to crafting one tiny planet. He stuck that planet in orbit around one of the flaming gas-balls He’d made and kick-started life. If the universe was designed by God, a perfect being, then that would mean everything that occurs here—from flowers blooming to atoms splitting to stars exploding—is part of God’s grand plan, and that what God has made is good and does not at any point need to be fixed or repaired. God did not create an imperfect universe.

But if this is the case, then what of our own sun, the star that provides heat and light to our planet? One day—granted, a day so far in the future as to be incomprehensible to those currently living—that star will erupt into massive flames, and the Earth will be burnt to a crisp. Is this part of God’s beautiful, majestic design? If He cares so much for humans, why would he put them on a planet that has a limited lifespan? Surely it is within the scope of God’s powers to create a sun with infinite energy, or a planet that supports itself without the need for a star to nourish it? But God has done neither of these things. It would appear as though God has placed human beings on a very unstable tract of land, one that He put a ton of effort into designing just for us but seems content to allow to be annihilated by another one of His creations—for recall that God also made the sun, and designed it to explode violently when it runs out of fuel.

The fact that our Sol will one day consume us suggests one of several options: a) that God created things this way for a reason, b) that God created an imperfect solar system and will need to step in to prevent the destruction of Earth, or c) that there was no special favor garnered to Earth (and therefore its inhabitants) in the designing of the universe.

If (a) is true, then what would the reason be? Some might argue that it is the unfathomable will of God, but this is just as much a cop-out now as ever. Oh! Could it be because God is encouraging us to develop space travel and find a new planet to live on? But wait… why would God want that? He made the Earth for us; doesn’t He want us to stay? And the Earth is where saints, prophets, and Jesus himself walked and spoke. People kill each other for control of places that Christ visited or lived. Wouldn’t God want us to remain here, if those places are that important? Maybe it’s because of “evil” (this feels like the Catholic answer, although I don’t know what the Catholic answer would actually be). My reply is: how? How does “evil” have anything to do with the machinations of the stars? Is Satan going to make the sun blow up? Ooh, bad Satan! Naughty Satan! And obviously God can’t intervene, because doing so would interfere with Satan’s free will, right? Or maybe the free will of the sun? Or wait, was it only humans who have free will? So how would preventing Satan from detonating the sun affect our free will in the slightest? Perhaps I’ve taken the wrong tack here; maybe it’s supposed to coincide with the Rapture, and all that fire the Bible talks about is actually the rapidly expanding sun coming to eat us up. But if that’s the case, then we know when it’s gonna happen. Isn’t it written that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2)? Could it be that we, mere humans, have unlocked the secret of the Apocalypse? And more importantly, if the sun going supernova is the Day of Judgment, then why are people so convinced it will be sooner than that? It can't be both ways; either the sun’s temper tantrum is the end of the world, or it isn’t. If it is, we can rest assured that we’ll all be long dead before it occurs. If it isn’t, then there must be another reason for God to let the sun expand and kill us, or (b) or (c) is true.

If (b) is true, then God is certainly much less perfect than was initially reported. Perhaps it’s just unavoidable; despite His power, God is not omnipotent and thus cannot create a fully functional universe on the first try. Or perhaps it’s a matter of awareness; God is not omniscient, and thus couldn’t foresee the vaporization of Earth before it happened (although how we, just tiny insects compared to God, are able to predict it remains a mystery). Denying God either of the properties I just mentioned makes God seem a whole lot less worthy of worship than most people would like. Do you want a God who can’t do everything to be looking out for you? What if He can’t protect you from a more powerful evil? How about a non-omniscient God? Do you really want a being who doesn’t know everything to be your judge when you’re put to trial for your “sins”? Maybe it’s just a matter of God not wanting the Earth to last forever; but this brings us back to point (a), and the refutations explained there still stand.

If (c) is true, then nothing happens. God’s behavior or creative “error” doesn’t need to be explained, because human beings are not (shock of shocks!) the center of the universe. This option allows for design theories to remain on the table (only to be brushed aside by other arguments) while simultaneously pruning away our arrogant assumption that everything in the universe happens with us in mind. We’re the center of nothing but our own worldviews.

Questions? Comments? Feedback is appreciated.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Read & Blog Fail

Well, shoot. Here I was, all geared up to do a “Read & Blog” thing with this book I picked up from the library, and now I’m not going to. Why? Because this collection of pages is, if you’ll pardon my language, the most capricious, delusional, unreasonable, biased piece of Christian literature I have yet laid eyes upon. To say that this book portrays atheists in a fair and accurate light is an understatement on the magnitude of calling the Pacific a charming pond. The author clearly has it out for us, and not in any way that can be fought against with weapons of the intellect. To be frank, the only thing that’ll stop this guy from thinking the way he does is death, and I’m slightly saddened by the fact that he won’t be able to experience the crushing disappointment of discovering that the afterlife he has long dreamed of is a lie. I have no malign intent here; all I’m saying is that there is nothing on this Earth than could convince the author of… well, anything he doesn’t already believe to be true.

The book I’m referring to is You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, but You Can’t Make Him Think, by Ray Comfort. Here’s a picture of the cover:

From the foreword to the endnotes, this book is one colossal, misinformed attack on atheists and what Ray has convinced himself they believe. Others have done a better job than I can of giving this waste of paper the thrashing it deserves, so I won’t do much of that. What I will do, however, is point out a couple of things that occurred to me, and then cast this wretched tome back into the library’s deposit box faster than Ray can decide I’m an idiot simply because I’m an atheist.

First, I really do feel sorry for Ray. It’s clear that he believes what he’s saying with every fiber of his being. There is not a single un-Christian inch of Ray Comfort, and I must admit that his ability to remain steadfast in his theology despite what I’m sure are a number of warning sirens that have been going off in the rational part of his mind for quite some time (assuming he hasn’t already eviscerated that part of his intellect) is quite impressive. And thus, I don’t feel any particular anger toward him for being so bigoted against non-believers. What he wrote I can be upset at. But him, the person? Naw. He’s not trying to be insulting for insult’s sake. He’s just doing what anyone would do if they truly believed Hell is a real place where anyone who doesn't practice the right kind of Christianity goes. I can’t say that I blame him. I don’t agree with him, not in the slightest, but I can’t say I blame him. Incidentally, I find it very interesting that there aren’t more Christians out there who act as if Hell is real. Maybe they just don't want to think about it? I’ll have to ask my Catholic friends (I’ve told some of them that I’m an atheist).

Second, I wonder why Ray is the way he is. Has he ever read anything about evolution? I’m no scientist, but I think I already know more about evolution than he does, and could explain it better than he did in this book. So why not study up? Wouldn't it be better for his arguments if he could say that he was intimately familiar with the other side? Oh, wait, silly me. That’s not in the least what he’s trying to do here; Ray’s “arguments” hinge entirely on an audience that is just as uninformed as he is. Without an ignorant readership willing to take everything he writes at face value, Ray’s entire literary empire would collapse overnight. Luckily, uneducated believers are a dime a dozen.

Which brings me to my third and final point: it terrifies me to think that there are people—perhaps millions?—out there who honest-to-God believe the stuff in this book. They believe “the atheist is someone who pretends that there is not god” (Preface). They believe that evolution means random chance with no controlling factors or forces. They believe that the acceptable way to answer any and every question is to ignore the question and quote the Bible. Are there really people out there who buy into this stuff? I heave a sigh as I realize, yes, there are. And they may well have read this book. Which means if any of them were to meet an atheist on the street, you can bet they’d have some totally ridiculous things ready to say.

All right, enough with this. I’ll be glad to rid of this book; maybe the next time I grab some apologetics from the library, they’ll actually present a decent intellectual challenge. YCLAEYCMHT, on the other hand (wow, what an acronym!), could be refuted by a four-year-old… assuming that four-year-old wasn’t brought up by fundamentalist Christian parents.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Final Thoughts on the Mission

This entry was written while I was away from home on a Catholic mission trip and subsequently placed in its correct timeslot. Line breaks generally indicate some amount of time between the writing of the paragraphs, as I penned these thoughts over the course of the day. I have not changed the content of this entry, save for minor spelling and grammar corrections.

Social justice is important for everyone. It doesn’t matter that these people are Catholic and I’m not; equality and respect of human dignity are things that we can both agree upon. I’ll be honest: I agree with almost everything I’ve seen this week, with the exception of the Catholic stuff. Take all that faith nonsense out, and you have an amazing set of morals and some people who will do anything to promote social justice. These are good folks. They’ve got it all right… except, again, the religion part.

I feel a bit like I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix of religion. I can hear Morpheus’ words as I write this: “Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.” They’re not! I asked Allison today if she thinks the story of Noah’s ark is literally true, and she said yes. When I asked her why, she more or less said that she didn’t have a reason. I realized then that Allison is in deep. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s been doing it her whole life. I respect her and I think she’s very intelligent, but here’s the thing: She doesn’t want to think about it. It matters very little to her whether it’s true or not, because what’s more important is her children, her husband, her career, and her social status. Whether God is real or not is, overall, not that important. And this is likely true of a lot of Catholics/Christians I know. So ultimately, all I can do is agree to disagree and leave it at that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wishing for the Truth

This entry was written while I was away from home on a Catholic mission trip and subsequently placed in its correct timeslot. Line breaks generally indicate some amount of time between the writing of the paragraphs, as I penned these thoughts over the course of the day. I have not changed the content of this entry, save for minor spelling and grammar corrections.

Back in the chapel again. I… I wish it was true. All of it. I’m scared. I don’t want to leave. I’ve been drifting away for over a year, and yet still I cling. Still I hope. But this mission is the last straw for me. I’ve seen now that even a strong desire to delude myself is not enough. I’ve chosen reason. I’ve chosen the truth. Harsh, biting truth, colder than the dark side of Mercury. No matter how I’ve tried this week, I know in my heart and mind that I can never go back. I’m out forever. I am an atheist through and through. And thus, here I sit. Alone. Quiet. Calm. Contemplating. Resting before the tabernacle, a relic I once believed holy and cosmically significant. I look up at it with pleading eyes, because for the first time since I became a non-believer, I want to have my knowledge wiped away. Alas, nothing. No final, shocking revelation from God. No whispered words of an angel. No loving embrace from Christ. I am alone in this chapel, and with a sickening lurch, I realize that I’ve always been alone here. Even in days gone by, when I would pray in places like this. Even at the heights of religious ecstasy. Even when among thousands of believers.

No matter how much I want it to be true, it is not. Christianity is false. I am alone here.

And I think I’m finally ok with that.

I think empathy is one of the most beautiful emotions in the human repertoire. The ability to feel the pain of others is unique to our species, and thus we carry a special type of burden that other creatures do not. I’ve seen lots of empathy this week, but nowhere is there more of it than during the closing ceremony for the mission. Everyone shares a story about something that touched them this week. Most of the stories are about events that cause others to feel happy. Many people cry during this ceremony. Myself, well, I guess my heart has been hardened. I used to be too empathetic (note the suffix). Now I’m not empathetic enough. But oh well.

I’m suddenly reminded of a line from a Regina Spektor song: “You laugh until you cry/you cry until you laugh/and everyone must breathe/until their dying breath”.

This is a beautiful ceremony. There is so much love in this room. So much compassion. I wish desperately that I could say a magic word and suddenly everyone would realize that God isn’t here right now; and more importantly, we’re fine without him. “People! Listen! You don’t need God to tell you to be here! You can just be here!”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Worshiping Bread

This entry was written while I was away from home on a Catholic mission trip and subsequently placed in its correct timeslot. Line breaks generally indicate some amount of time between the writing of the paragraphs, as I penned these thoughts over the course of the day. I have not changed the content of this entry, save for minor spelling and grammar corrections.

I didn’t write much yesterday, primarily because I was really busy. It was our distribution day, which means we had to hand out all the food, clothes, and supplies we’ve been organizing all week. I saw a lot of great things from the students (leadership, patience, etc.) and of course the warm fuzzy feelings you get from helping people were also nice. And again, let me stress: No faith necessary. It’s just me, the human. I’m looking out at a world that will someday fade, but for the time being it’s here, it’s now, and I’m part of it. And no matter what happens, the fact that I existed will always be true. I live my life by a guiding principle similar to the one held by the faithful: what we do in this life is what matters.

On an unrelated note, I now find it very funny to put “sin” in perspective. Why would the creator of the universe care one iota about what we, mere insignificant specks on an insignificant speck, do with our time? “But God wants to have a personal relationship with each of us,” you say. Is that so? God’s idea of a personal relationship is pretty fucked, then. “I’m going to silently watch you everywhere, at all times, and if you screw up even once, I’m not letting you back into Heaven until you say you’re sorry. And mean it. Cuz I’ll know if you don’t.” For Catholics this means you must tell a priest your sins. It’s not good enough to say them to yourself, even though God is everywhere and in each of us. We’re all with God, but some people are more with God than others.

I sit now in the presence of “Christ”. “He” is locked up safe and warm inside the golden tabernacle here in the church. Did you know that tabernacles and dishes for Mass are supposed to be made of gold? After all, we must show proper respect to our God. Can’t be keeping him in any of those other metals he created, no sir. Only gold is fit for God. Anyway, looking at this situation from an outside perspective reveals just how ridiculous it is. I’m sitting in a special room designated for one purpose: to house a golden box in which is held, under lock and key, a few pieces of unleavened bread. I’m supposed to genuflect to this box when entering and exiting the room.

The other day I heard someone say, “Christ is really, physically present, in the form of bread and wine.” What? This is nonsense. It can’t be both ways: either the bread changes into some other physical substance, or it doesn’t. It if does, that’s testable. If it doesn’t, then the implication is that the bread and wine have immaterial/spiritual properties. But that’s absurd. Wheat and grapes don’t have souls. This is why they call it a “mystery”.

There’s no mystery. You’re worshiping a piece of bread.

We celebrated Mass at the migrant camp today. It made me a little sad. These people put up with the horrible state of their lives partly because they believe that they’ll go to paradise after death. Sure, maybe the thought of that gives some of them the hope they need in order to keep going. But at the same time, it cripples their drive to fight for change and equality. They stay where they are because they believe God will reward them for their suffering.

False. There is no God. Heaven is a logical impossibility under Catholicism. These people have been brainwashed, and they’ll stay that way until something drastic occurs.

I feel bad sometimes, thinking this way. In our group, I find myself placing people into one of several categories as I stand among them: too young or naïve to truly believe; indoctrinated by their parents; not smart enough to understand the arguments against their faith; intelligent, but unwilling to search for the truth; set in their ways and unwilling to change; and so on. Is it wrong of me to think this way? Every single one of these people is deluded in some way. Each would require a different style of argument or piece of evidence in order to convince them otherwise, assuming it’s possible to do so.

But that’s not my place. They may believe as they wish. All I ask is for the same privilege.