The Consequence of God

8 03 2009

I have never made it a secret to anyone that I am a very staunch atheist. A lot of people have engaged me in very civil conversations about my position on the existence of a god and, I’ll admit, I haven’t always been as clear as I wanted to be. I thought it would be a good thing to write a very thorough and comprehensive post about my lack of belief in a god and my general disdain for religion in general. While I do this, it is not to “convert” anyone to my “belief,” but to expose an area of the religious debate that is generally overlooked and thought of as being bad. (Quote from a wikipedia article on Religion in the US: University of Minnesota researchers, in a nationwide 2006 poll found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who rated them below Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society”. They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism. )
I ‘ll start off by trying to explain my view about religion and spirituality as simply and bluntly as I can. I do not believe in the existence of any god. I do not believe in angels, spirits, ghosts, miracles, heaven, hell, or any kind of divine intervention. Actually, I look at many of the organized religions and their mythology and, to me, it seems just plain silly. I know that hearing this from anyone raises a number of questions and common arguments against this position, so I’ll try to address those first before I get into why I believe this, how I got to this place, and why I think this discussion is important.

The questions:

Agnosticism vs. Atheism
A common debate surrounding the disbelief in a deity revolves around the definitions of atheism and agnosticism. Atheism gets a negative connotation because many people see it as hypocritical. The misconception is that atheism is the belief that there is no god. It is labeled as being hypocritical because it is thought that atheists question the faithful beliefs of the religious while they, themselves. hold the position that there is no god that is based on an unprovable belief. The problem with this is that one can not have a belief in disbelief. The definition of atheism is the lack of belief in a god (theos = god, the prefix a- meaning “not”). Thus, atheism cannot be both a belief and the lack of belief at the same time.
Agnosticism is wrongly thought to be the middle ground between theism and atheism. It is the “nice” version of atheism where you don’t have to state your disbelief but instead state that you don’t know. In fact, agnosticism has nothing to do with belief at all. Belief in a god (theism) or lack of belief in a god (atheism) cover the entire spectrum of belief. You must be one or the other. It is a very black and white concept. Saying “I don’t know” places a firm skepticism in your position, which means that you have not been convinced to believe, so you are, by definition an atheist. Agnosticism deals with “knowing.” One can state that they are agnostic if they answer the question of “Is there a god?” with “I don’t know.” Thus, one can be a theist or an atheist and also be an agnostic.
I am an agnostic atheist. I believe that it is just as hypocritical for an atheist to say for sure that there is no god without any evidence to support this claim. I am an agnostic because I am comfortable enough to acknowledge when I do not know something. At the same time, I am an atheist because disbelief is the default position that we all take in our lives. Outside of religion, we ask for evidence and proof and until we see something that is stated to exist, we do not believe it to be. I always use the example of the purple unicorn. If I stated that there was a purple unicorn standing behind you all the time, but the moment you turned around, it disappeared, you would think I was crazy. You wouldn’t believe me until you could see the purple unicorn. You would try to turn really quickly to see the purple unicorn before it disappeared. You would hold up a mirror to try to catch sight of the purple unicorn, and you would take the position that no such purple unicorn exists until you got that evidence. While this might sound like an absurd example, it is the way that I look at religious claims. If you want me to believe in a god, let me see one. Until I do, I will take the default human position of nonexistence and answer any inquiry into the existence of gods with a firm “I don’t know.”

Pascal’s Wager aka God is a good bet
“”If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing–but if you don’t believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you will go to hell. Therefore it is foolish to be an atheist.”
This statement is fundamentally flawed. First, which god should I believe in? Any god? If I get a choice then I choose Backlum Chaam, the Mayan god of sex. Talk about best of both worlds… The second flaw in this argument is that it states that if you believe in a god and are wrong, then you’ve lost nothing. I would firmly disagree. It is my lack of belief that drives me to want to do great things. I feel a strong sense of urgency to do great things during THIS life because it’s the only one I have. The belief in a god would destroy that urgency.

How did we get here?
A common argument against atheism is that there HAS to be a god, otherwise, where did we come from? The simple answer to this question is another question: Where did God come from? This inevitably leads to the original questioner telling me about how god is god and he’s all powerful and has always existed. There is an idea called Occam’s Razor that was originally stated as “Do not multiply entities unnecessarily,” but which can basically be modernized to say that we should “Take the simplest solution.” I just wonder why we can’t apply the timeless existence of god to the universe and call it a day. It baffles my mind that these questioners can be taken back when I state that the universe could have always existed but are completely OK with applying the same idea to a god. My answer to the “How did we get here”  question is “I don’t know.” I’m comfortable with that. Most people aren’t.

There are many other questions that I’m sure come up. These are just some of the ones that I heard a lot. Hopefully I’ll touch on the other ones as I continue. Feel free to comment and ask any questions if you have them.

How did I get to be an atheist?

I was not always an atheist. I was an atheist when I was born, but my parents decided against that course for my life. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family. I went to church every week for almost 20 years. I spent 9 years getting a Catholic education. I was an altar boy. Even more then all of this outward evidence of my religious background, I was a firm believer. When I was a teenager, I considered an active role in the church as a deacon or a Eucharistic minister of some sort. So what changed? I went to college. Knowledge happened.
Prior to college, I was sheltered. I had never been exposed to anything outside of my religion. I spent 9 years being taught about one religion and the following three years of public school having the subject avoided entirely. My first assignment in my freshmen year English class was to read and write about Martin Luther’s “95 Theses.” This was a list of all of the problems that Luther had with the Church. Reading it hit me like a ton of bricks (or a ton of feathers, either way, it was heavy). Here were 95 problems with my religion when in 18 years I had never heard one. That’ll wake you up. That single moment was the first crack in the dam. During the next few semesters, I took three different classes on religion dealing with all of the religions of the world, the various beliefs about death and the afterlife and one more the evades me right now. Here, it was exposed to me that the Noah flood story was probably not original source material. Neither was Jesus. Ouch. Talk about a big oopsie. These stories made me extremely skeptical about my own religion. I’ll try to give a quick summary of them here:

Noah and the flood
During one of my classes we read a story about a great flood. The story said that all of the people were bitching to a god and that the god couldn’t sleep, so he decided to wipe them all out with a great flood. A god went to some guy and tipped him off and told the guy to build a boat. It rained for a week straight, flooding everything and wiping out all of the annoying people. The guy tried to release a dove to find land but the dove kept coming back, so there was no land. Eventually, the flood waters subsided and the man found land and repopulated the earth with quieter people so that the god could sleep.
Who was this man? His name was Gilgamesh. The story was from a poem from Ancient Mesopotamia and dated to around 2700 BCE. The story of Noah dates to around 2300 BCE, given the chronology of the Bible.

Jesus, the source material
Just like the Noah story, the story of Jesus was predated by other source material that is too similar to be mere coincidence. The most popular of these early gods is Horus, an Egyptian god. Let me try to quickly summarize all of the similarities.
Both were born of virgins, Horus was born to Meri while Jesus was born to Mary. Both had foster fathers who are from a royal line. Horus was born in a cave while Jesus was born in a stable. Both births were preceded by an angelic annunciation to the aforementioned mother. Both were heralded by a star in the sky. The birth of Horus is said to be the winter solstice (typically December 21st) while Jesus’ birthday is December 25th (which oddly enough is the same birthday as Mithra, Dionysus and the Sol Invictus). Both had births that were witnessed by shepherds. Both have no documented history between the ages of 12 and 30. Both were baptized in a river. (Horus by Anup the Baptizer, Jesus by John the Baptizer). Both of the aforementioned baptizers were beheaded. Both were taken from the desert to a mountain and tempted. Both had 12 disciples. Both walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, calmed violent waters, and restored sight to the blind. Both also raised their friend from the dead. Both were transfigured. Both were crucified and accompanied by two criminals. Both descended to Hell and were resurrected after three days.
That is a lot of similarity. The story of Horus was found in “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” which was written prior to 3000 BCE. The Bible accounts of Jesus date to between 30 and 100 ACE. Barring blind faith, this has to make even the most committed Christian skeptical.

In the interest of keeping this posting to the size of a short book, I’ll also point you to all of the inconsistencies that exist in the Bible via a convenient web link that you can check out on your own:

Why bring all of this up?
Why bring all of this up? I have heard complaints that I should just let people believe in their gods. I really think that, while religion does to a wealth of good, it does significantly more harm in both a physical as well as a mental sense and I don’t think its right to stand by and accept this. Religion is filled with hypocrisy and people are either unknowingly ignorant of this hypocrisy or knowingly ignorant and choose not to question. Many religions say you should give to the poor and then spend millions of dollars on the vanity of their houses of worship. Most religions dictate belief and create a system whereby questioning that belief is wrong and that wrongness is backed up with a sense of guilt to stop us from questioning. We should always question. It is by questioning that we move towards a better society and way of life. An inquisitive mind is a mind that will create the next great advances of our civilization and religion muffles this out and calls it evil for the sake of its own survival.
Religion divides us as much as it brings us together. I would make the claim (without actually researching it thoroughly) that religion has caused more wars and the deaths that resulted then from any other single cause. There has been war in the middle east over the same plot of dirt all because it is considered holy. Can’t they just share it?
I recognize all of the good things that come out of religion. Religion is a great tool for conveying morality (not to be confused as a source of morality). Religious groups perform much charitable work in our communities. These things, however, could be done without religion. There are many moral people that are raised without religion. There are plenty of charitable organizations that do the same work as the religious ones and I’m sure that more would spring up into the void if there were no religious charities.
I understand why we have religion. Religion is a placeholder. It is the answer to the questions we can’t answer. Zeus was the god of rain to the Greeks. He existed because the Greeks did not understand where rain came from. Now that we understand how rain occurs, there is no more Zeus. As I’ve stated before, people don’t like to not know. It is uncomfortable. Knowledge is, perhaps, the driving force of all of humanity. Perfect knowledge is what we all strive for. Thus, there is a god to create the universe because we don’t yet have the answer to the question: “Where did we come from?”
Religion is also a comfort tool. People are uncomfortable with death. We don’t like thinking that our loved ones are gone for good. There is comfort in a divine afterlife where we’ll be able to see them again. We are also uncomfortable with the fact of our own demise. Religion gives us this comfort and masks the inevitability of death. It cures our loneliness. When we feel like things are hopeless and there is no one to turn to, religion gives us that person to talk to. This is the reason that they say that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Some people would say “What’s wrong with this?” I think that we’re all stronger then we give ourselves credit for. I think that we can face death, loneliness, and hopelessness and make it to the other side without a god to prop us up. We don’t need the crutch of religion to get us through because we’re strong enough to do it without that help. We’re on our way there but people are afraid to make the leap.
It’s important to remember that religion has been around for several thousand years. Science has just started to explain the world in the last three to four hundred years. It has, however, started to show people how powerful knowledge really is. As of 2001, the group of “non religious” people sits around 16% of the world’s population. This is third behind Christianity and Islam. This category has also seen a huge jump in the US statistics. In 1990, about 14.3 million people categorized themselves as “non religious” and by 2001, that figure was closer to 30 million.

Ok, I’m done

So what’s the point? Why have this discussion? Why attack religion and attempt to cast doubt? People are afraid to challenge the status quo. I’m sure that more people have doubts then they let on (the “I’m Christian but I don’t practice” people, I’m looking at you.) Doubt is good. Questioning is good. Knowledge is what we need more of. Religion tends to suppress these things. I honestly, truly have faith (irony intended) that we, as a people, will move towards a much more enlightened and prosperous place when religion is gone. I’m not looking for you to shed your religion. For some, it’s as much a family tradition as it is a religion. It’s simply my hope that you’ll doubt, question, seek knowledge, and challenge the status quo. These things are typically counter to religious belief and thus lead to a position like mine.

(check back later this week to read my updated view on the economy)


For Auld Lang Syne

31 12 2008

I’m watching TV on New Years’ Eve and I was thinking about the New Years’ staple song, Auld Lang Syne.  Mainly, I was thinking about how a) I don’t know what Auld Lang Syne means, and b) I don’t know any of the words except for maybe the first two lines.  So I looked it up and found an American translation of the usual Scottish lyrics.

The song is asking if old friends and old times should be forgotten.   “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates to “old long since” but a better American English definition would be “days of long ago” or “the good old days.”  It’s taking a moment to look back at the past, at the good times that we’ve had and the good friends that we’ve shared them with that may or may not still be in our lives.  The last verse, to me, is the best of it:  And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

So to my friends that read this that I haven’t seen in a long time, I send out a toast to you and to the good old days.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old times since ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
And surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Road trip 2008: Nightcap

31 12 2008

Road Trip 2008: Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room

31 12 2008

Road Trip 2008: Why on Earth would you do that?

31 12 2008

In case you didn’t see my last few videos, I’m sitting on the balcony of a hotel right on the ocean in Daytona Beach writing this. I have, admittedly, been rubbing this fact in quite a bit. Why would I do such a thing, you ask? Because I know that any of you would be doing the exact same thing if you were in my position!

I’m sure the question has crossed a few minds as to why I would hop in my car and just drive for the better part of an entire day to get here. An airplane would have gotten me here in about 4 hours. The other question is why I would do it alone if I was going to do it at all. I wanted to spend this post getting into the reasons behind this and why, if you know me, you know that neither of these are uncommon for me.

Most people find the prospect of driving a car for about 14 hours (closer to 17 going back because I’ll be going to NY instead of DE where I started) to not be a very relaxing vacation. It is, I’ll admit, pretty brutal to drive that far. It was 900 miles driving down and about 1250 miles going back…. but I love it. The drive itself is as important to the vacation as the destination is. Especially doing it alone, the drive gives you a lot of time to think about things. At this time of year, right before the end of 2008, I had about 12 hours alone driving to think about what happened the past year and what is on the way in the next year. I had all of that time to reflect on the decisions that I made and how they effected me and those around me. I was able to look at the good decisions and think about how I could repeat them or make them even better. I was able to reflect upon the bad decisions that I made and figure out how to not repeat them and what I’ve learned because of them. New Years eve is really no big deal to me. It never has been. Last year I stayed at home, ate Chinese food and watched ‘The Wire’ (awesome show by the way). The year before that, I worked. It is, to me, the celebration of an arbitrary point on our man made calendar. There’s really nothing special about it. Call me a party pooper, but that’s just my line of thinking. It does, however, give us all a reference point to stop and reflect on our lives and look towards the future. I think that the most successful people that you’ll find are the ones that do this frequently and honestly. Driving alone in a car for so long gives me a lot of time to really think in ways that a regular day at home wouldn’t.

The other reason that I did this is because of my constant desire to learn and experience the things that I’ve never experienced. If I had of taken a plane, I would have missed driving through Norfolk, visiting Santee, SC (population 740) and eating at a Waffle House. They may all seem like peculiar things to want to experience, but they’re really way more interesting then visiting a resort town like Daytona. That’s the real America that I want to see and experience. On my way home, I’m going to avoid the marathon drive and give myself two full days to drive back and use the stops to try to visit one city or town in each state that I drive through up to Virginia.( I’ve seen DC, MD, NJ, DE, and NY enough already). I’m probably going to stop in Jacksonville, FL and Augusta, GA. The other states I’ll have to look into but I might opt to just pick an exit and experience some of the small town America that exists in SC and NC.

People always wonder why I do stuff like this… I always wonder why more people don’t. I have a week off before I go back to work again. I don’t want to spend it sitting around my house doing something that I could do the rest of the year.

The other thing that I’m sure a lot of people wonder is why I would want to go on vacation alone. This is something that I do quite frequently. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy vacations with other people as well, but it’s a vacation with an entirely different purpose. When I’m with people on vacations it’s to live it up. It’s for going out to party or doing other social activities like gambling. This solo vacation is more about the reflection that I talked about earlier. It’s also about stepping away from my day to day and clearing my head out. I rarely find that trips with other people are relaxing. Usually there’s some kind of itinerary and you’re constantly busy and out until all hours of the night. It’s usually a great time but not all that relaxing or rejuvenating. When I take these solo trips, it’s about being able to do what I want, when I want. I can spend a few hours at a poker room or go fishing without having to clear it with the group. I can leave the beach after an hour if I don’t feel like being at the beach. I can go to bed at 11:30 if I feel tired and don’t want to stay out. That kind of freedom allows you to do things on your terms and enjoying your vacation for different reasons.

A lot of people have a stigma about taking vacations alone. In reality, I don’t know anyone that is even off this week to come along with me even if I wanted to have some kind of companion for the trip. Traveling alone is really something that I think everyone should try. You’ll find that it’s an entirely different vacation experience.

Road Trip 2008: Enjoy the view

30 12 2008

Road Trip 2008 Part 2

30 12 2008

Here’s there rest of the ride down. This section of video starts Monday December 29th around noon in SC and goes until I reach Daytona. I was listening to salsa music when I got to FL to get myself into a festive mood. That’s the Daytona Motor Speedway at about 6 and a half minutes in. Enjoy the video while I’m on the beach 🙂