Archive for the The Facts and Ideas Category

Book

Posted in The Facts and Ideas, The Narrow Path on January 18, 2013 by RWZero

I’ve started writing the book that summarizes my thoughts on all this (not the compilation of these essays – those are pretty much finished, rotting on my hard drive as I wait to PDF them).

Last night I spent 5 hours writing just the first three pages, and I fell asleep at 3 AM and went into work late.

I’ll get it done somehow.

But it Matters Right Now!

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on January 2, 2013 by RWZero

The Internet is full of happy white male atheists who would love to tell you about their happiness. They like explaining that God and an afterlife are not necessary for frolicking in the field. They have heard of the existentialists, of course; some of them (though fewer of them) have even read the material, but they don’t take it too seriously. Life is good at my computer with my steaming cup of coffee, and it’s worth living because I say so.

Does life matter? Does it have meaning? Yes, because it matters and has meaning right now!

It seems like a somewhat subjective question, so it is impossible to show that these people are wrong. But the best I can argue, based on the brevity and simplicity of their answers, is that these people have either just not thought about it enough, aren’t capable of grasping it, or have jobs, bills and kids that keep them too busy to think about it deeply enough.

The best I can say is that I’ve held all the same thoughts and feelings that these people have had. I’ve felt motivated, happy, charged with meaning; I’ve been in a state of mind that could easily produce answers such as these. However, I have also been horrifically depressed and stricken with existential terror, as if every nerve ending were aflame, and in that state of mind I would not give those answers. Having experienced both, I judge that the latter was a higher state of mind than the former. The latter contains the former. It came from thinking about it and reflecting deeply, with every ounce of my psyche. The former state of mind does not contain the latter, and it does not require any focus, reflection, experience or intelligence; it can be attained in one’s sleep, in childhood, in mere hypnagogia.

I have experienced and felt what they’ve said. But they have not experienced and felt what I’ve said.

If you are performing a song for an audience, and it is made known that the audience’s memories will be erased after the song, you will probably lose some motivation. If your sound guy says “it matters right now,” you will probably not think it matters too much, because your mind will be focused 3 minutes ahead… at which point none of what you did will matter. Yet when those three minutes are stretched into decades, somehow this is changed–partly because it’s easy to imagine three minutes from now, in a way that it is not easy to imagine eons from now.

I feel happy right now, but I admit that this is partly because I have learned to dismiss and ignore certain things. I also entertain the idea that there may be positive metaphysical truths that I am unaware of.

If God doesn’t exist, and he’s completely useless in providing meaning in people’s lives, why did people invent him? Why do people still cling to belief, when there are plenty of evidence-based paths available that lead to unbelief?

People obviously cling to these beliefs because they are psychologically helpful.

Atheists are compelled to disbelieve in religion, so it is no surprise that there are essays about how life (on the whole) is meaningful and optimistic, just as it is no surprise that Christians write essays about how such and such science is compatible with Christianity. People are compelled to come to their root conclusions for deep and fundamental reasons, and thereafter they must take whatever steps are necessary to make those conclusions comfortable.

~

Dan Ariely showed in his experiment with Lego-building that participants become demotivated when the meaningless of their efforts is exposed. Both groups knew that the Lego figures they built would be disassembled, but only one group saw this happening. Both groups performed a pointless task: the loss of motivation was entirely based on how apparent the pointlessness was.

The God-Santa Comparison

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on December 12, 2012 by RWZero

One of the common attacks on Christians is that “God is just an adult version of Santa.”

This potshot makes people upset. I remember it getting me upset.

In retrospect, I think it’s upsetting because it hits too close to home. There is no practical difference between God and Santa. Sure, some people think one’s real and the other isn’t… but there’s no tangible difference. Both are invisible, both take personal requests, both watch you and know if you’re naughty or nice, and there is nothing but storytelling about either. No real presents, no real tangible things that aren’t done by some other person.

It just has to be different, though. One is so serious, the other so obviously silly. How could the whole world, with all its cathedrals and serious institutions, fall for God, while Santa is but a children’s tale?

The fact is that Santa exists to bring presents. We don’t really need a supernatural being to bring us presents or explain where presents come from, because we make and buy them ourselves. Only a child benefits from that story. However, all people will always benefit from a supernatural being who explains why the universe is here, and helps us with circumstances that are beyond our control. So there will always be, at least for the foreseeable future, a benefit to believing in a story about God.

Yet the Santa comparison remains embarrassingly, painfully germane. My mom never told me about Santa, because she was worried it would cause problems with what they were telling me about God. Should that not raise red flags? The fact that it even can cause problems is telling.

The below is pasted from a Ray Bradley writeup:

“It all began with Santa. In hindsight, I see that it was questions about him that primed the pump of critical inquiry for me. Up until the age of 6 or 7, I believed in Santa just as fervently as I believed in Jesus and the nativity stories, in Heaven as a place from which my grandfather–along with God–watched my every move, and in Hell as a place where the bad people go.

If anything, my belief in Santa was even more vivid, and more compelling, than these other beliefs. After all, I’d actually seen and talked to Santa every Christmas when we went to the Farmers Trading Company on Hobson Street. And sometimes I’d seen him, half an hour later, in Milne and Choyce on Queen Street.

But soon I started asking questions. How many Santas were there? If–as my parents explained–the Hobson Street Santa and the Queen Street Santa were only “pretend” Santas, where was the real Santa? Was there, in fact, a real Santa as well as the pretend ones? If so, where did he live? How did he manage to visit all of the children in the world on the very same night? How did he get down our chimney without getting covered with soot, or visit my bedroom without leaving visible footprints? It seemed to me that his ability to do all these extraordinary things made him something of a miracle-worker, a bit like Moses and Jesus.

More worrying were some ethical questions. Why did Santa discriminate so blatantly by giving rich kids things like bicycles when my stocking contained trinkets like lead soldiers, a bag of lollies, and a few pieces of fruit? Why did he reward some of the nasty kids that I knew more than he rewarded good little boys like me?

I was troubled even more when I discovered that some of the kids at school didn’t believe in Santa anymore. They said it was my parents who’d filled my stocking.

When finally confronted with the whole package of my perplexities, my parents confessed that Santa stories were just pleasant make-believe. But that, too, troubled me. They had lied, I insisted. So how could I trust the other stories that they told me? And how could I trust my own beliefs if in this instance they had proved to be false? How much of what I believed was myth? How much was based in reality? I resolved never again to believe just on the basis of someone else’s say-so. Many of my questions about Santa later found clear parallels in questions about religious matters.”

Tracts

Posted in The Facts and Ideas, The Narrow Path on December 6, 2012 by RWZero

This is the tract that someone stuffed into my door a while back. In fact they stuffed one in the door and left one on the windshield, just to make sure I got it.

Kids. Kids burning in hell. A cigar-smoking kid who’s going to hell.

If you can’t grasp the world well enough to realize how this looks to other people, then maybe you can’t grasp the world well enough to realize other things too.

Tract

“There are Extremists in Every Religion”

Posted in The Facts and Ideas, The Narrow Path on December 4, 2012 by RWZero

Really.

Dear, non-believing secular humanist with a butterflies-and-roses left-leaning university degree in the humanities, I present you with a choice:

You must upload a Youtube video. In this video, you must show your face, and you must display your full name and address. Then you have to say either…

“F*** JESUS!”

Or

“F*** THE PROPHET MUHAMMED!”

I know which one you’ll choose.

I’m sure your white, anti-colonial professors would be proud.

Misquoting Jesus

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on November 28, 2012 by RWZero

I had this book on my to-read list for a long time, but I never got around to it until now. While the general issues discussed in the book were not new to me, many of the specific details were both new and interesting to me.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that, when you go to church multiple times a week for decades, nobody teaches you anything about the Bible. You have to go somewhere else for that. Obviously they don’t think the information is very helpful to the faith.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on November 19, 2012 by RWZero

I cannot see how this will ever end. If Israel leaves the Palestinian territories, they will still be attacked. If they stay, they will be occupiers.

As a little Christian, I used to think that it was evidence for Christianity, that the Jewish nation had come to exist again, that Jerusalem was so hotly contested–scores of (now dusty) books on end-times prophecy confirmed it. Why would so much international attention focus on Jerusalem if it weren’t truly important, just as Christianity predicted it would be?

Well. I hope I don’t have to explain this to anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet.