| Thursday, August 28, 2008

It keeps popping up everywhere as I trounce around the blogs and the comment threads. There are many believers that honestly believe that atheists have little to no reason to be moral and are therefore less trustworthy. There is also this idea that atheists are somehow backwards in their thinking as well. If they would only think clearly, surely they could see the obvious truth of God's existence and his moral mandates. On the one hand it's comical because there are many atheists that think similarly about believers. On the other hand it's devastating because there is so much distrust and misunderstanding on both sides of the fence.

Atheists have had a bad name since time immemorial. The Psalmist calls the atheist a fool. Heresy has been a taboo since the beginning of our species because as I see it, heresy is just an extension of the in/out group. If the group believes in God and someone doesn't then that someone is out. And so it is today. If you believe in God, and for many it doesn't seem to matter how you define God, you're in. If not, then you're out.

The thing is, from the tone of many of the anti-religious books that have come out recently, atheists don't have too high of an opinion of believers either. They recall with magnified detail all the horrific and devastating tragedies that have been wrought in the name of God. They decry the suppression of scientific progress at the hands of religious fundamentalism. Much time and effort is spent debunking the claims of pseudo-sciences like creationism and ID. All bumps in the road of human progress are blamed on the heavy hand of religious superstition.

It seems that when an atheists thinks "religious believer", they think of Kent Hovind wearing Torquemada's red devil suit and when a believer thinks "atheist", they think of Stalin pressing the button and watching smugly from his bunker 15 miles below the surface of the Earth as our planet explodes in a complete nuclear holocaust.

Even though our brain distinguishes different light wavelengths into colors, we seem to think of our fellow humans in black and white terms. We place each other in neat little boxes based on labels that we've given each other, whether or not the individual fits into them. If we would pay a little more attention to each other, we'd see that we aren't all fundamentalists. If we'd pay more attention to deeds then to particulars of belief, surely there would be less distrust and misunderstanding.

I think it's horrible to condone or praise wholesale human slaughter whether you did it because of your reading of the Bible or your reading of Karl Marx. I think you are terrific if you are kind to your family and respectful to others, whether you did so because that's what you think God wants from you or because such acts are in line with your personally chosen moral values.

Now I don't mean to downplay the differences too much. Creationism doesn't belong in science class for the simple reason that it's not science. The religious right can't argue for their values in the political realm by quoting from the Bible for the simple reason that doing so is fallacious argumentation. However, I find the atheists that are trying to take plaques of the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms and to remove "In God We Trust" from US currency, to be overly petty. There are other things that I find wrong that are on some atheists agenda, like trying to get rid of Christmas and marginalizing all religious believers, just because they're religious believers and not specifically marginalizing any fallacious arguments no matter what the source may be. There are a number of real political problems that need to be duked out in the public square. But there is a significant population, the large majority, of religious believers that aren't biblical literalists and suicide bombers and condemn such things. And there are a significant percentage of atheists that wouldn't dream of supporting, and willingly condemn, the likes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

In summary, while I think that there are real arguments that need to be duked out, assuming all religious believers are Kent Hovind or Kiruv Klowns and assuming all atheists are Stalin or Brian Sapient, isn't very accurate and isn't very helpful. And for the literalists out there, the examples I used were purposefully extreme, exaggerated stereotypes.

| Tuesday, August 26, 2008

XGH closed down... again.

These are the reports thus far.

Frum Heretic

Torat Ezra

Baal HaBos


I hope XGH finds happiness.

There are some newbies on the Jewish Skeptic blogosphere.



But me... I went to a simcha recently. Simchas are emotionally traumatic for me. It takes me about a week to recover.

I've been reading Richard Rorty. He is surprisingly convincing.

| Thursday, August 21, 2008

It seems that I wasn't very clear in my last post so I wanted to try to fix that a bit.

As I see it, knowledge of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth is out of our reach as humans in the 21st century. There are still marvels and mysteries yet to be discovered, and I think that by definition, Truth, in this sense, is like God and ultimately unknowable.

What Truth is, I don't know if I could, or even if it's possible to at all, capture in words, yet we all use the word Truth, and we all know what we are talking about (or do we?). When we talk about Truth, it seems that we are talking about a combination of different things. We talk about our beliefs that match with Reality, we talk about ideas that are Good, and beliefs that have shown themselves to work, to help us cope with our perceptions of reality. We experience and then we try to sort these experiences out. We question, reason, "tetris-ize" into our other beliefs, give tentative answers and through this we come to know and believe certain truths. It seems that the sum total of what we know and believe from all of the aforementioned, we also call Truth, even though it seems that Truth is also used more broadly to include what only an all-knowing God could know.

Everybody wants to know Truth, many people think they are already the proud owners of Truth. Some of us have been programmed to believe that our particular system of belief is true and gives VIP access to Truth and of course personal contact information to the author of Truth, God himself.

But then some of us are privileged to have Truth poke it's horned head through our facade of what we believe is Truth. There are many different reactions at this point. Some of us follow it, others don't recognize it. Some of us see it but pile on the bullshit to varying degrees. Yet others bury their heads in the sand.

When this happens there are different emotional reactions. For some, Truth is our savior and we are madly in love, even if in some respects our previous lover's delusions brought us more happiness. We are comforted and satisfied to know that those delusions could only bring us a false and ultimately shallow happiness.

Our relationship with Truth is necessarily piecemeal and incomplete. Some of us want as much as we can get. Some of us feel obligated to sacrifice ourselves to this, and some go willingly as Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. The sacrifice is not always so great and others go willingly because they have little, if anything, to lose and so much to gain.

However, we are mere human beings. We have hundreds of interests, some of which may be in conflict with our search for Truth. How far down the rabbit whole are we obligated to go? The skeptic that questions his or her religion in search of Truth, though he or she may find freedom from the tyranny of religious ignorance or bullshit, at times finds him/herself in emotional distress. We've all had moments when Truth had forced itself upon us and made us feel uncomfortable. These moments can last for a long time and while in the midst of them, we wish with all our hearts that we had never taken our relationship with Truth this far. Truth can have tragic effects that extend throughout our lives and even to our human relationships. After all, aren't humans more important? Isn't our own happiness more important?

Now you may be thinking that the alternative is "Ignorance is Bliss" and surely that isn't good. But life is not so black and white. We aren't forced to make a choice between 100% Truth, no matter what, and complete and utter ignorance. Perhaps something a little less committal would be good for some people. For those of us that do not find Truth to be the end all, be all, Truth can be viewed as an obstacle to other interests. We aren't all ready, on multiple levels, to sacrifice everything for the sake of Truth. In fact it's quite clear that Truth, to varying extents, is bad for many of us.

In light of all this, does Truth Trump? Is it the Royal Flush in Spades that beats all other hands? Or perhaps Truth is not like this, and other hands are indeed more important.

| Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I’ve been questioning the importance of seeking Truth.

In my humble opinion, being a good person is the most important thing for us social animals and happiness and well-being is the most important thing for us as individuals in this sea of humanity.

Taken to extremes, if you have an intelligent scientist that is constantly defecting in the moral game we play, it doesn’t really matter if he understands quantum physics, natural selection or all the mysteries of the universe for that matter, he’s still a shmuck and I wouldn’t want anything to do with the guy. On the other hand, we have a guy who believes in silly things like demons, angels, heaven and hell, and a 5768 year old universe, but is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, donates time and money to the less fortunate, and takes care of his wife and kids. It’s quite clear which is the superior human being.

Now there are those that would argue that we have some kind of moral obligation to seek the truth. However, I question if this should come at the expense of other perhaps more practical and human needs, wants and desires.

XGH is a prime example. The poor guy is absolutely miserable now that he’s lost his faith. This could be but a passing storm but in the here and now, looking back, he’d probably rather be believing in the fairy tales of the Torah, and happy, personally and socially, than having the “satisfaction” of successfully debunking the Kuzari argument for the hundred millionth time. Now he knows the truth but at what expense?

Of course if we could have truth and happiness then there’s no question. But how much do you push for the truth? How much do we give in to Truth? At what price is it still worth the decrease in our happiness and wellbeing? Is Truth our god, that we must sacrifice our mind and body, our family and friends to it? In the beginning there was mutual consent but if we are now forced against our will, how is Truth any better than a rapist?

| Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Are all delusions bad?

What about illusions?

What's more important, truth or happiness?

Is it important to believe in something greater then yourself?

What's the best philosophy?

Why do people pick on religion and mysticism, but poetry, art and music command our respect?

Maybe religion, mysticism, and philosophy are just like poetry, art and music...

I like the idea of language games.

When you sense that you are reading this post, you don't doubt it. When you see the walls melting while on an acid trip, you realize later that you were hallucinating. When a mystic feels at one with the Universe, which sense experience is he having?

I haven't been able to come to any conclusions of note recently so I thought I'd just post these thoughts.

| Monday, August 18, 2008

I've done some chazara recently on my thoughts from not too long ago.

How embarrassing!

I have a lot to learn...

There are so many ideas out there. So much too process. Science, Philosophy, Religion, Politics, Ethics, and more, all with lifetimes worth of study.

When I think of the 15 billion years or so that this universe has been in existence, then think of the tiny chunk of time that humans have graced (or terrorized?) this planet, then think of the time that humans started making something of themselves, then think of the how long it took us to get to the Enlightenment, then for Charles Darwin to be born and discover evolution, then my pitiful existence and all the time that it took me to get to this point, I feel very small and insignificant. Humans weren't developed to think about all this. We're just one step in the cosmic chain of existence, just one species amongst millions of life forms on this planet alone. In evolutionary time we've barely begun to stop swinging from the trees. Who knows how far other civilizations may have come by now?

If you take a "God's eye view" of space and time, then zoom in to our petty little arguments over say, the truth of a God given book, or taxing people that make more the $250,000 a year, it kind of makes you wonder.

And yet here we are, small biological machines, trying to survive and find happiness in that pursuit... trying to get as far from our biological roots as we can, trying to escape from the cruelty of Natural Selection, from the very evolutionary process that has given us our very existence. We spit in the face of our cosmic parents. Thanks Natural Selection, you've gotten us this far, but err... we don't really like you anymore. We want to be nice to the weak, not mercilessly destroy them like you've done since we crawled out of the primordial soup. We want to look ahead and plan our own existence, not give in to short term gains like you've done. Sure without you we'd have never gotten here, but you almost wiped us out awhile back and you don't give a damn about us anyhow. Piss off. Be happy with the rest of the life you've given birth to, that you've fashioned in your mindless cruelty. We want to create our own standards.

And Natural Selection just sits back and laughs. You pitiful fools. You can't change who you were born too. You can't just stop a ball from rolling that's got hundreds of millions of years of momentum.

Oh, but we can try and we can pretend. You gave us those very abilities.

| Friday, August 15, 2008

The Chief and Renaissance have disappeared without a trace. Their blogs are down. What happened? Where are you? Is everything OK? Did they up your dosage and steal your blog?

| Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In my last post I suggested that God be used strictly in the theistic sense, for very the simple reason that this is how most common people, even most theologians, thus far in history have used the term God in this sense.

I read most of Paul Harrisson’s book on Pantheism last night and I’m on the verge of a recant! But I hope to write more about that later.

Many of you objected to this narrow usage of the word God and some mentioned that atheism is a problematic term as well. This is very true. The “New” atheists are trying to use the term in what I consider to be a more accurate, at least etymologically, to mean a lack of belief in a conscious, intervening God. However, this is not how the term was used historically. When Spinoza or Paine spoke of atheists, they had something else completely in mind.

Words are a tricky thing… Gay no longer means happy, it means homosexual. Dennet is trying to do a similar word high-jack with the term Bright. The new atheists are trying to change the historical understanding of atheism. Some Pantheists want to use God, though theists would consider their view heretical and horribly wrong.

So what’s the solution? I suppose for the sake of this blog, I’ll use the philosophers technique and simply clarify what I mean when using a word that may be confusing. What’s an effective solution for honesty and clarity, without cumbersome explanations, in daily conversations? Perhaps you just have to play it by ear. Any suggestions?

| Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bruce recently did a post about God. He is another in a long list of people that are redefining God from the character of our various holy books and folk superstitions to something even atheists believe in. Bruce steers the God question in the direction of goodness.

Clarity is one of my highest values so naturally Bruce's God game won't do for me. But let us not single out Bruce. There are many bloggers that play this game as well.

XGH has tried dealing with God by making that word a reference to Meaning, Morality, and Spirituality.

B. Spinoza
redefines God as Reality.

And other skeptical bloggers struggle with God. Some, like Orthoprax, have "given in" and now are quite willing to answer in the affirmative when asked the question, "Do you believe in God?"

What struck me as intriguing is what appears to be the uncontrollable human need to make something of the idea, belief, or even just the word "God." What is it that is so compelling, that makes the belief in God practically mandatory for normalcy? Why do people go through such great lengths to avoid the taboo that is an atheist? Even I will only hesitantly declare that I am an atheist. I'd much rather say something dishonest like "I believe in Einstein's God," even though I feel that using God in such a way is like calling the atmospheric discharge of electricity, Zeus.

But there are two values that come in to conflict for me, concerning God.

1) Clarity and Honesty
2) Social Cohesion and steering clear of confrontation

Fact of the matter is, many Americans think atheists are immoral scum. Everyone believes in God except people like Stalin and Mao, right? But it certainly won't do any good to continue to sweep the God question under the rug for all eternity, will it? Perhaps it is a good idea to simply allow the God notion to evolve as it has and continues, from the vindictive sky daddy to the unknowable abstract concept promoted by the your average monotheistic theologian. Now panentheism and other abstract and objectively meaningless understandings of God are being copied and spread amongst believers. Surely there is no need for ME to ruffle feathers. But what about clarity and honesty, my other beloved values? Don't they obligate me to ask for a definition? But is that even practical? Everytime I talk about God, must I clarify that and say... oh I don't know... the God that writes books and answers prayers. Even these things are being redefined in abstract and meaningless ways. God didn't actually write the bible per se. God was the inspiration that caused it's authors to strive for meaning, morality and spirituality through it's text. And God doesn't answer prayers or wreak supernatural miracles. Rather we gain insight into ourselves by the glory of nature and speaking out our minds to... well that doesn't really matter. It's the working things out by speaking that is what prayer is all about.

Now of course, some people believe that God is most accurately described in their particular terms, whatever they may be. They honestly don't see themselves as playing word games. I, of course, would rather do without the headache. I don't feel any attachment to God as a being, belief or word. I'd rather just talk about goodness, reality, meaning, morality, spirituality, and inspiration or whatever the next thing for which we use God to be a synonym.