Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What it means to be a "free-thinker"

Hello, readers. I realize I have neglected you of late. I've been procrastinating doing a post about Pope Nazipants (or, as my dad calls him, "Ratzi the Nazi") in the Holy Land. As such, I haven't posted much of anything at all. That said, I don't actually think Ratzi did such a terrible job in the middle east, so I think I'm just going to let it lie and write about something else. OK? OK...

So, there's something that has been bothering me for some time now. As you may have noticed, I take just as much issue with the militant atheist crowd as I do with the fundamentalist Christians. I don't quite get the argument that a group of people can be inherently superior based on their beliefs (or lack thereof), when their behavior is eerily similar. Granted, the atheists generally don't resort to violence. But self-righteousness breeds all kinds of evils, and if they continue to believe that atheism is the only possible expression of intelligence, who knows what they might one day be capable of?

The idea that being a "free-thinker" means being an atheist or agnostic seems counter-intuitive to me. Freedom of thought should mean just that. It should mean freedom to believe what makes sense to you as an individual. As such, I propose a re-definition. Let's let the term "free-thinker" apply to anyone who has arrived at their own system of belief (or lack thereof) using their own unhindered reasoning. That does, after all, seem to be more accurate to the definition of "free."

I also propose a truce.

What I believe (which is not at all what I was taught to believe as a child) has lead me to the conclusion that life is of the utmost importance. Human beings are important. We have a duty to ourselves and to our species to live good, full lives, and to enable others to do the same. Any belief system that leads to the same conclusion is, in my opinion, a good one. As such, I believe those who subscribe to humanist belief systems should be joining forces, not bickering about specifics. Belief in God (or lack of belief in God, or belief in the absence of God, etc.) has no inherit merit. The ideas are abstract and inherently personal. A person should not be defined by what they believe, but by how they behave. I wish that was a conclusion more people would draw.

I think it is unfair and unreasonable that some atheists, in their anger and frustration with the religious right (with whom the religious left is equally, if not more frustrated), have lumped all believers together in one category. We all believe in God, therefore we are all stupid or misguided. We are not free-thinkers, because we have not wholly rejected religion. This is a fallacy. Think of what we could accomplish if those who value human rights, regardless of creed, joined forces. After all, we have more in common than we think. And I'm pretty certain that we are all "free-thinkers." Just sayin'.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Keith Olberman gay?* I hope not because I want to marry him.

*Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Undeniable proof of the existence of God

Thursday, May 7, 2009

You've got to be kidding me

From Reuters:

Afghanistan's Taliban have urged Afghan Muslims to resist anyone trying to convert them, after a television network aired pictures of U.S. soldiers in the country with bibles translated into local languages.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed footage on Monday of a bible studies class on a U.S. base in Afghanistan where a soldier had brought a stack of bibles translated into the Afghan languages Dari and Pashto.

The U.S. military bans its soldiers from attempting to convert people to any religion while on active duty. It said commanders confiscated and destroyed the bibles, and they were never distributed to Afghans.

A statement posted on a Taliban website, alemarah1.org, said converting Afghans to Christianity was part of the U.S. war plan.

OK, Commander-in-Chief, you need to put a stop to this right now. Any action that makes the United States look like religious fascists, and makes the Taliban look like the reasonable ones, is not a good idea. In fact, it's a really, really bad idea. This is not a "holy war." There is no such thing as a "holy war." We cannot hope to ever make progress in the tortured Middle East if we answer the behavior of religious fundamentalists with behavior unique to religious fundamentalists. We are there to change the political situation, not to spread Christianity. This has got to stop.

And since we're on the subject, why on earth would these people ever want to convert to Christianity? Assuming some of them are unhappy with Islam, as it was partially their brethren's ideology that got them into this mess in the first place, what on earth could make Christianity (from the mouths of American soldiers) seem like a better alternative? Are the soldiers calling it a religion of peace? I'd imagine they'd have a hard time convincing anyone of that, seeing as they're SOLDIERS... in a WAR. Are they calling it a religion of love? I think they'd have a tough time convincing anyone of that either, what with the acts of torture in which the American military has engaged. The fact is, calling America a "Christian nation" gives Christianity a really, really bad name. If you're going to insist that Christianity is superior to any other religion, you're going to have to demonstrate it. I do not believe that these soldiers are at all capable of doing that.

Psalm 120 says:
I call on the LORD in my distress,
and he answers me.

Save me, O LORD, from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,
and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?

He will punish you with a warrior's sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom tree.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!

Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.

I am a man of peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.

Romans 12:14-21 says:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Tell you what, crazies: I will let you call America a "Christian nation" as soon as it starts acting like one. WTFWJD?

(Thanks to Dave for the pic!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The American Patriot's Bible

From examiner.com:

The American Patriot's Bible is a combination of a New King James Bible (and all the helps that come with it) and a history of the United States, looking through the lens of Christianity.

Is it far-fetched to say that this is likely a very dangerous book? Discuss.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Religion and Education

Recently, I came across this incendiary video:

I believe that one of the things that makes a country strong is diversity - diversity of race, sexual orientation, politics, and faith (or lack thereof). The idea that all the atheists should just GTF out of America is absurd. That said, the idea that if the atheists left we'd have no intelligent people is equally absurd.

You'll note that this video does not cite its sources; it uses music as a tool to evoke an emotional response; and it makes claims that aren't entirely true. In short, it is a propaganda film. I find myself not only offended by this video, but disappointed. One thing I really like about atheism is the value it places on logic and reason - things I value as well. When an atheist person or group makes statements like these, it says to me, "Fuck logic and reason. I just want to piss people off." Since that seems to be the mantra of the Christian right, I am disturbed to find that some atheists are adopting it as well. Seriously, guys? Stop it. You're better than that.

In the comments on the last post, I found myself on a tangent about what I believe to be the correlation between blind faith and lack of education. In order to explore that further, I decided to check out some statistics (because I am just a barrel of fun, and this is what I do with my free time). Here's what I got (from Gallup):

So, the claim this video makes that says 10% of America is atheist is apparently fabricated. It looks more like 6% to me. Way to be part of the "reality-based community", video-making guy. Gosh.

As I'm sure we could all have predicted, the likelihood of fervent religious belief seems to decrease as a person's education level increases. That said, this data doesn't entirely support what's presented in this stupid video. But it does raise an interesting question: why are more highly-educated people less likely to believe in God? I have a hypothesis (which might sound slightly redundant to those of you who read the comment thread on the last post).

One of the most valuable byproducts of a good education is the learned ability to think critically. Children are naturally curious; but if they are taught facts without methods, numbers without formulas, and dates without context, they will, for the most part, lose their curiosity and wind up as mindless drones (to put it dramatically). Unfortunately, it is difficult for someone with a high school education or less to receive the kind of education that would lead to critical thinking. Public schools, for the most part, teach to standardized tests. The schools are measured on how much useless knowledge they can cram into kids' heads, to the detriment of the students themselves.

Thus, receiving a higher education will almost certainly impact a person's ability to think critically. University classes involve discussion, experimentation, and real problem-solving. If a person is going to get through, he's going to have to learn how to think. And, in doing so, he may feel inclined to apply his new-found thinking ability to other areas of his life, such as belief in God. I'm quite certain that the more education a person receives, the more that person will question his faith. Like I said, it's human nature to be inquisitive (if you can remember how). In questioning, he is more likely to find the idiosyncrasies* of belief; and in finding the idiosyncrasies, he is more likely to look for truth elsewhere. And really, I think that's fine and good and, in fact, the best thing a person can do with their faith. After all, faith is meaningless if it isn't questioned.

Lots of things in Christianity don't make sense. The virgin birth seems a little too convenient, the resurrection seems a little far-fetched, and the idea that the world was created in six days is in direct conflict with everything we know about science. Some people, when they are unable to reconcile these ideas with belief in God end up atheists. Some of them place such a high value on logic that they cannot excuse belief in God, even if it makes no attempt to argue with scientific fact, because there is not empirical evidence to support it. And, like I said, that's great. But here's the kicker:

This is just an example of one of the problems that arise for logical people raised in the Christian faith, but I think it is food for thought. According to this poll, 74% of postgraduates believe the theory of evolution to be true. Simultaneously, 90% of postgraduates believe either in God or some other higher power. What this says to me, is that these people, who are more likely than any other group (in my opinion) to have questioned their faith, have, for the most part, found a way to reconcile logic and God. Are the militant atheists going to accuse these people of stupidity? They're educated, they understand science... does belief in God make all of that irrelevant? I don't think so.

I'm of the camp that need for a higher power is a fundamental part of human nature. Sure, a small percentage of the population seems to get along just fine without it, but the rest of us really do need Him, whoever he is. That doesn't make us stupid, nor does it necessarily make us blind followers. If the people out there making videos like these and claims that religion causes all the worlds ills concentrated on improving the standards of education in the United States, they'd probably get a lot further. After all, it's got to be a hell of a lot easier to achieve education reform than it is to convince 93% of the population that there is no God. And, if they succeeded, they'd likely wind up with a few more atheists.

Were I a religion teacher (I'm not sure who would allow that. Maybe the Unitarians), I would encourage my students to find ways to relate their faith to daily life (and vice-versa), to relate their faith to what they know of the natural world (and vice-versa), and to try to find a place where faith and reality are not in conflict. If that means not believing in God, fine. But I refuse to believe that atheism is inherently superior to religion. After all, most of the faults the super-atheists attribute to religion are really faults in human nature. And, in the end, nobody really knows WTF Jesus would do.

*Holy crap! I spelled that word correctly on the first try!!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who would Jesus torture?

The other day, some disturbing information came to my attention. The Pew Forum, an organization that studies the relationship between religion and public policy, conducted a study that examined individuals' comfort level with torture vs. the regularity with which they attend church, and the type of church they attend. While not particularly surprising, the results are unsettling, to say the least:

What this poll makes clear to me is that evangelical Protestants, who are the most likely group to believe that torture can sometimes or often be justified, are not as Bible-savvy as they might think. I cannot for the life of me, however, figure out why 19% of Catholics think that torture "can often be justified." Here is a religion that, for all its flaws, prides itself on education (both spiritual and otherwise). We were never taught anything in Catholic school that would lead us to believe that torture was ever OK. I'd imagine the kids in Sunday school were taught similar things. Where, then, does this rationale come from? I can only conclude that this whole thing has more to do with party alliance than religion (though the two are inextricably and disturbingly linked).

This is not the way we are supposed to treat one another. There is nothing in the New Testament that justifies torture of anyone. In fact, Jesus speaks pretty plainly about the ways we should behave not just to our friends, but to our enemies, in his sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:38-39 says:

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:43-48 says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are called, not just as Christians, but as human beings, to treat each other in a dignified and loving way. It's not always easy, and it doesn't always happen, but it's very important for us to try. And as for torture, it should be a no-brainer. A "Christian Nation", as the crazies like to call it, would not engage in such an act. I think it's pretty clear WTF Jesus would do.

UPDATE: My friend Dave made me this:

It's a priest waterboarding a prisoner! Yay!

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