In Defense of Atheists (Part II)

What believers need to know about Atheists

While many people rightfully argue about (or discuss) belief and religion, I’m sure many don’t know what atheists think or believe. However, I encourage people to learn the truth about atheism to understand atheists better. It’s very simple but it may require more unlearning of past prejudices than assimilating new information. That is partly why I decided to become open about my atheism and to write about it.

My take on life’s meaning

I ended Part I with mention of an article that accuses atheists of being nihilists. Indeed, nihilists do not usually follow a god belief. There are multiple forms of nihilism because it is a basic philosophical position that applies to different things differently. So there are many types of nihilists, but that discussion is well beyond my intent here. As with most posts of that nature, it was full of assumptions about atheists that are either wrong or stereotyping. That should be enough, but the article was also replete with reasoning fallacies; a common problem with theistic arguments of virtually any type.

One claim the author made regards life having meaning. Life being meaningless would be a nihilist philosophical premise, but it is not atheist even if some atheists may see life like that. Few atheists are nihilist of any kind, but this is about me. So, this guy claims my life is void of meaning and must be so because it includes no gods. Specifically his. Many people may need a god to give meaning or purpose to their life. Fine – that’s them. I don’t! (And, frankly, neither do they.)

I contend that since this life is all I have (reincarnation notwithstanding), every day of it is filled with purpose and reason. What I will never accept is that life is some sort of test given by a god to determine if I, or my eternal soul, must spend eternity either incredibly bored (or however you see that state) or suffering (aka eternal damnation). I say this life is all we get, and I hope it is wonderful for everyone. If someone thinks it is a blessing from god, I’m ok with that. That’s them. If they follow a religion, I am sure there is more to it.

I think the purpose of each life is simply to live it. My reason for existence is the reason I give it, just as each person gives reason and purpose to their life, with or without the assistance of a deity or the promise of an afterlife. That’s my opinion, and it’s not nihilist. I find people telling me that such thoughts are not what I truly think to be incredibly annoying.

I don’t believe that I was created by a god. It is not the purpose of my life to serve anything or anybody outside of nature – I respect reality and nature. I believe in living my life as implied in parts of much wisdom literature to the fullest (eat, drink, and be merry), to find happiness and pleasure (e.g., The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), to limit my suffering and that of other people and creatures. Certainly, to love.

I am here to be part of nature. And then, as is the highest law all life must follow, to return my borrowed physical essence back to the natural universe, allowing my mind to pass on to whatever respite awaits in death, if anything of the kind follows, which I doubt. That is the natural cycle of life. We cannot change it. I can think of no reason to change it. It seems to be working, provided we don’t fuck things up too badly.

I couldn’t have said it better myself

A Catholic priest once said (I’m paraphrasing), if there is no god, we have all been involved in a horrible deception and charade. I heard those words at a critical time: true, serious, tragic. I consider most people I know to be good, be they atheist or Christian or other religion. I assume that believers who post anti-atheist things are also good people being controlled by religious fear and the dark side of human nature. People can be stubborn. I prefer to say that I’m persistent.

But these folks who write such tripe are just plain wrong about me and other atheists, wrong about the conclusion that is atheism, and are often offensive. I hope that’s because they don’t know that atheists are as good as any believer. But, as Neil Carter implied, the on-line us is often not the best side of the person.

Neil Carter

This youtube video is among the best explanations I’ve seen. It is respectfully well-done by Neil Carter, who blogs as Godless in Dixie. It is an abbreviated version of a longer talk given by Neil. So, while it is about 15 minutes, it’s only part of the talk. The point here is the 11 items and his explanations. This was made in a Christian Church for Christians, so it is worth viewing be you theist, atheist, or anywhere in between.

Look both ways because “a hair divides what is false and true.
And mind the gaps because “
We shall perish along the path of love.”
(quotes by Omar Khayyam)

In Defense of Atheists (Part I)

 

Most Christians are wrong about Atheists

About me

I’m atheist. I do not identify as humanist or nihilist. I’m expert in neither, but I agree with some views of both philosophies even though they often conflict. That sometimes makes me of two minds, or maybe three. Click this link for my story if you need to know it, but, ya probably don’t.

Why I am writing this

I decided to post this in two parts to keep them of reasonable length. In this part, I talk about things that believers (I say Christians, because that’s what most Americans are) are wrong about regarding atheists. It’s been said a lot, but not enough. Part II will address some things I think people should know (particularly Christians, but anyone) about atheists. Some atheists read my blog and I hope they will correct my errors or clarify my confusion.

I’ve often read long, esoteric, philosophical explanations about why atheists are bad people. I’m a sensitive man, and they hurt what feelings I still have. Since being atheist is simple (we believe in no gods; done.), those rants are virtually always wrong. They are not attempts to convince me to repent or to believe in god. They simply judge atheists, or atheism, as bad.

Believe to be good

Belief in god makes no one better, and vice versa. But, most believers seem to think it does make them better. Otherwise, why bother with religion? That is to be expected. Conversely, they further seem to think that not believing makes me worse. A lot worse, apparently. Since these folks have no specific atheist behavior to point to, they go off on long, broad-brush, baseless philosophical tirades that can only be explained as being essential to their own personal and spiritual well-being. We all know people who put others down to make themselves feel good.

Atheists are bad

I fully understand the morality issue for some folks. But atheists are as moral as anyone. Yet, these rants are not as simple as holier than thou. Each is judging other people they do not know as evil for having a harmless opinion. Conversely, those who do evil things and repent (or maybe not) are judged to be better than those who simply don’t think gods exist. How is that logical?

Bad to the bone

However, leading the pack of obnoxious nonsensical know-it-alls are the clueless people who seem to know exactly what atheism is, what atheists are up to, and why. They claim to know our thoughts. Yet, for all the animus it generates, atheism is simple. But these self-appointed detractors are not atheist and don’t seem to want to get it right. What they seem to want is to preserve something that disbelief threatens simply by being a conclusion in someone’s mind – a conclusion that can change (as in reverse) in a New York minute, but rarely does.

These holy souls swing at the low-hanging-fruit to bash people for what they believe. This is partly because of what they think (not know) about atheists and atheism. Such assaults are unnecessary, insulting, and vulgar. One Orthodox Christian priest has said that embracing atheism is worse than committing murderer. People believe this crap, especially when it’s said from the pulpit by a “man of god.” That annoys me.

I have my limited personal experience, but surveys I’ve read indicated that people trust atheists (I assume ones they don’t know) about the same as convicted rapists and murderers. In some states, it is illegal for an atheist to hold public office, even if democratically elected. While such laws are not enforceable, they remain on the books. Very few outspoken atheists hold elected office – none nationally. So, why the need to pile-on with the endless “they are bad, bad, bad?”

The essay

Recently, I read a post by someone who insisted that all atheists are nihilist. Following several of my objecting comments, he stood firm with his accusation. In the essay he further insinuated that any social justice work done by atheists is a ruse, insincere, and as doomed as a “utopia” (his word). Now, that shit hurts. I can’t imagine how he connected nihilism to utopia (dystopia perhaps?). This, they will say they’re not, but they are argument is worthless. Do all Christians play with snakes or drink poison to prove the strength of their faith? Of course not. Nor do all atheists agree with nihilist philosophies. It’s difficult enough without someone making stuff up.

Look both ways: either there is a god or there are not gods.
Consider all the gaps and mind them well.

Morality, Sin, and I over E (I/E)

Disclosure: I’m of the there are no gods variety of atheist. Consequently, there’s no sin. Since we can’t have one without the other, sin is a word I use only because the majority use the word, even if they’re agnostic. But, there is some general agreement about what is or isn’t moral behavior.

 

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The past few weeks, I’ve posted about the seven deadly, and predominantly Christian, sins of greed, pride, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. I also provided a brief contrast with an opposite word. My approach was based on the source of our behavior, our human mind and emotions. Each of the seven begins with an emotion that may later be manifest in behavior – we act based on how we feel.

Writers have a phrase: show me, don’t tell me. In movies, the words and actions of the actors are used to portray thoughts and feelings. In my opinion, we cannot choose each emotion. Happiness is a little different. We can be happy people and still experience dark-side emotions. Furthermore, we can usually choose our behavior. Some comments have implied that we’re in total control over emotions, and then control our actions, as well. While I don’t share that opinion, my behavior is based upon my emotional state has led to more apologies from me than I care to admit – slow learner.

As a society, a nation, or arguably, within a religion, we subjectively decide what’s moral. It changes over time, and we routinely disagree about what’s unacceptable (political-type disagreements). While we don’t always agree, often we do.

In the title equation, I = intellect, and E = emotion. When we experience emotions, we follow that feeling with behavior. To the degree that we can, ideally, we choose the behavior we morally and intellectually we want to display. For example, if someone elicits our anger, jealousy, or some other feeling from our complex emotional spectrum, we then pick our next move. I over E implies that we select our words or actions based on our intellect (good judgment, wisdom), rather than the emotion we feel. It’s not easy to behave contrary to how we feel. Nor is it always necessary. Going with our emotions (following our heart) is very often our best and most sincere option. We love with not only our personal emotions, but often those of others. How others tug at our emotions makes life magical. Life is wondrous, but not simple.

The common thread that I’ve stitched through each of the seven is that emotions are not sins. Feelings are legitimate. Be they good or bad feelings, it’s our behavior that determines anything about moral standards. And it doesn’t make a tinker’s-dam if one believes in a god, gods, or none. Each of the seven have opposite virtues. Every good person has a dark side. Every saint has a past; every sinner a future.

Humans are very much part of nature. We are where we belong. Our greatest need is for each other. Our greatest challenge is in dealing with each other.

Our lives are full of stepping stones to make life better and with stumbling blocks that bring us incredible amounts of pain and suffering – and valuable lessons.

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Let’s be accepting and understanding of ourselves and others to the degree that we’re able. We are not static beings. We’re who and what we are, but we have opportunities and futures. We come into this world as we are – a combination of physical and mental paradoxes and mysteries. A lot happens between the average birth and death. This includes running the bases of virtuous and bad behavior, and the personal experience of staring into the abyss that is us.

Look both ways, and mind the gap.

Atheist Perspective on Christmas

 

atheist-xmas-3Since this is my first December and holiday season as an admitted atheist, it seems fitting to discuss Christmas from my nonbeliever perspective.

Much has been said and written about the secularism surrounding the holidays, and I’ve decided to provide my personal perspective. This is my 70th time partaking of the Christmas season celebration. So, much of what I say and do has precedence in that it’s what I’ve been doing for years.

As I write this I’m hearing the news from Germany of a large truck being driven into a crowd of people celebrating the holidays and the Russian Ambassador to Turkey being assassinated. The majority opinion seems to be that both events may be related to terrorism and religion, or at least god politics of some kind. And the list of such deeds goes on. None of this is in the holiday spirit. But as Christopher Hitchens subtitled and wrote in his book, “Religion poisons everything.”

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.” (To such heights of evil are men driven by religion) ~ Lucretius

For years, this was the season when we tried to spend quality time with family. Beginning with Thanksgiving, it’s a busy travel season in America as families reunite for celebrations. We’re surrounded by hype. But I enjoy the hype more than I like to admit.

I look forward to Halloween each year, partly because it marks the start of this season. Christmas is a happy time, a great time for most children. There are football playoffs, and bowl games. Winter begins, Yule is celebrated, and I like to look at snow. Dealing with it sucks.

In the home of my birth, the smell of the house changed, mostly due to the tree. But the house would also take on the aroma of whatever adult beverage had been opened. Aunt Lorry, who seldom drank alcohol, always brought port wine. Port is some powerful vino.

The thrill of gifts and happy people occupied our thoughts. We went to church. A little hut was built in the yard next to the church with a nativity scene inside it, behind thick glass and a locked door. There was a slot to deposit money for the poor, until someone started to rob it. Then they stopped using the box, and eventually the little hut went away. They must have assumed the thief was not one of the poor.

I don’t recall going to midnight Mass as a kid, but I probably did once or twice. Years later, I went several times. It was always crowded. All those Catholics who only went to Mass on Christmas and Easter would show up. By then, there was only one Mass on Christmas Day — all the others were vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. Going to church on Christmas day was inconvenient, at best.

Christmas was a “holy day of obligation” which meant that if you did not go to Mass that day, you would burn for eternity unless you made it to confession. I’m oversimplifying, but I was a child back then.

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Some Christian denominations don’t celebrate Christmas at all. And for non-Christians, it’s not celebrated as anything more than a secular holiday. But Christian or not, no one in the USA escapes the hype of Christmas. I provide gifts and greetings appropriate to this time of year and the holiday. I helped to decorate a big tree and to put up other decorations this year. I went to our party and may have sung some Christmas songs.

I fully understand the religious aspect of the holiday season (be it Christian, Pagan, Jewish [Hanukkah], or others). While I don’t agree with any religion, I think the intended spirit of caring is good. For me, family, friends, caring, giving, and delighting in nature are all the good things. So, like many atheists and other non-Christians, I join the party as I have for almost ¾ of a century.

atheist-xmas-2I’ll continue to celebrate the season much as I always have: eating and drinking too much while overdosing on football. It’s a fun cultural and secular holiday with many features that benefit life, whether one believes in any god or not.

I don’t see my enjoying the holidays as a big deal any more than I do saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, or “God damn it” when things go wrong, or when I use the word “god” or “Jesus Christ” to express pain or anger. But cussing is another story for a different blog. Unfortunately, the holiday season is a stressful or bad time for some people.

atheist-xmas-5If it busts someone’s chops that atheists enjoy the holidays, that’s a bummer. We intend no harm by joining the festivities. I suggest those humbugs pass a law that says one must be Christian to enjoy the holidays. Until then, you’ll find me hangin’ ’round the mistletoe.

 

I suggest you try Joey’s take on this by clicking here.

 

Happy Holidays.
May there be peace, love, and a thousand sugar plumb fairies dancing in your heart.
Look both ways and mind the gap.

“There are no gods”

 

no-god2

One definition of the word believe is to “accept something as true.” Synonyms include credit and trust. A second definition is to “hold something as an opinion, to suppose, or assume.” Synonyms for that definition include reckon, figure, and guess.

In her book Writing Down the Bones, the chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions, author Natalie Goldberg advises, “So even though life is not always so clear, it is good to express yourself in clear, affirmative statements.” I leave no doubt and no wiggle room with my clear declaration (albeit, not stated affirmatively). I’m not assuming, guessing, reckoning, or supposing. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, what part of no don’t you understand?

That’s how I choose to say it: “…no gods.” My reasoning is that saying I don’t believe in a god or gods is insufficient and could be misleading. I don’t need weak qualifiers to protect my position—nor do I need to prove it to anyone.

no-god4

I am not simply accepting anything as true or false. I am not supposing or assuming anything. I am stating my position as a fact. While some may use some esoteric scale (like the above) to argue that I must wear the label of gnostic atheist, as opposed to agnostic atheist, I disagree. I have one position that determines my point of view on many other things such as there are no ghosts, no devils, no angels, no unicorns, pigs cannot fly, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow cannot jump over the moon, but may have caused the Great Chicago Fire.

I enjoy Halloween and ghost stories around a camp fire as much as I ever did. It’s unnecessary to believe in spirit-world entities to enjoy being frightened by them. Reality, however, should be frightening in some circumstances.

no-god5Picture this. You’re sitting quietly in a random crowd of 100 people in the United States. Suddenly one person jumps up and yells loudly for all to clearly hear, “There is a god!” Let us now assume that said person had a good, but personal, reason for this announcement. None of the other 99 know it. What happens next?

Perhaps 40 or 50 people will say, “Amen.” Even more will likely applaud. Everything is fine and the feeling of the crowd is positive. Right? People have every right to their beliefs. In a random group of the remaining 99, not everyone will have the same beliefs. But there would be no grumbling, no accusations, no death threats, and not one person of the other 99 will stand and say, “Prove it.”

Add one person to that crowd – me. What if I stand up first and announce loud and clear, “There are no gods.” Keep in mind that of the thousands of gods humans have believed-in and worshipped over thousands of years, at least 70 people in the crowd agree with me, with one exception – the god they happen to believe in. Despite this, what likely happens next?

no-god1

Even when people know of my atheism, if I make that statement, I’ll be challenged to prove it. They see no oddity in asking me to disprove something more than 70% of the people claim to believe, but are equally unable to prove. Even some agnostics and atheists would challenge me by asking if I know it for a fact.

I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren this past summer. A friend wondered what I might say if one of them asked me if I believed in god. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I would answer. While it never came up, should it now, my answer is “No.” If a discussion or Q&A ensues, I would manage as honestly as I could. I am not afraid to use the words, I don’t know.

So, by stating that there are no gods, I’m establishing my position. I’m not a person who believes in god. I am not agnostic. While I have interest and curiosity about all religious beliefs, It’s not my intent to change anyone’s mind, unless I’m asked. But belief in god or not, I think religion is harmful. I am not trying to ruffle any feathers or destroy any fantasies. I agree with Ms. Goldberg and I’m thus making a clear statement – there are no gods. I’m keeping it simple.no-god3

Confidence and assuredness are good things, but we should consider all options.
Look both ways and mind the gap.

Evil’s Not My Problem

Monotheistic believers have no convincing way to deal with this issue. Because it has been around for a long time, it has been written about, answered, explained, taught, or discussed in groups of one kind or another. But it remains a problem that can only be settled one way—ignore it. Ignorance is bliss.

problem-of-evilOr, you might end up where I did, facilitating a classroom discussion of the topic in the Adult Education program at my Catholic church. Preparation for teaching, and then leading the group discussion, led me to an enlightenment. I was not, at the time, spiritually or religiously challenged by the problem of evil, but I learned a lot.

Most of what I learned involved getting deep into a topic that I’d not seriously considered. As I was reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I started coming to terms with my own evolving beliefs and conclusions.

I was a believer (or wannabe) at the time. My biggest aha moment was when I realized that I had no qualms pinning evil on god. And, of course, that led to the uh-oh moment. That’s when I realized that god could not be so good after all. That disconnect was not gunna work for me. “Houston, we have a problem.”

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If you’re fuzzy on what the problem of evil is about, click here  to link with a youtube that provides a quick-n-dirty review in ten minutes. Pay attention because that guy talks fast and covers a lot of ground.

I’m intrigued when a priest, deacon, nun, or any religious person says, “I can’t understand why God allowed that to happen.” Pick any natural disaster, which some people do not consider evil, or some other moral evil such as mass murder. We have heard it said.

In the case of Islamic terrorism and other nut cases, evil is even done in the name of god, ostensibly with god’s help, followed by a hefty reward from god. (WTF does anybody want with 72 virgins anyway?). I know there are other kinds of murderers, but everyday that religion is used to justify slaughter around the world.

I know, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” But, along with most Americans, I consider 9-11 the mass murder of innocents. My point is: there is evil—lots of it, and all kinds of it. If you believe in a god who knows, cares, and can fix it; you should radio Houston Control with your problem.

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We mere humans, when not being the perpetrators of some evil, expend energy preparing for and dealing with it in some way. We know it’s coming. So, in that way, it’s logically a problem that is often taken for granted (i.e., shit happens). Even the religious folks mentioned above devote their lives to promoting the goodness of god and fighting evil, albeit usually they focus on moral evil, as defined by them, of course. Other groups do a wonderful job of providing aid to victims, after the fact.

Since there is evil, it must ultimately be permitted by, if not created by, the god one believes exists. Depending on the religion, reconciling this with religious belief takes some doing and may call for a heavy dose of denial. Maybe a little help is in order? Enter the best scape goat ever—Satan. Next best are Adam or Eve. If someone says, “It’s god’s way,” you should be reaching for your bullshit flag because here it comes.i-dont-care4

In some way, religious folks must be working through or around this problem. Last I checked, monotheists aren’t switching to polytheism or finding another way to make it work. Or are they?

Atheists and believers seem to agree; there is evil in abundance. My definition of it is probably broader than many religious folk, but it’s close enough.

Atheists don’t have to determine why evil is permitted. We only need to acknowledge its existence, do what we can to make others aware of it, and prevent it when possible. If not, maybe we can find ways to deal with it when we must, which is more often than I like. I never have to ask why god did, or didn’t, do something. But you have every right to ask me why I don’t do something.problem-of-evil2

There is both good and evil in the world
and too often within us. Look both ways.

Are You an Enigma?

enigma3

I’m comfortable with not understanding everything and everybody. It has little to do with what I want, but more to do with my level of acceptance. I can be curious, and sometimes I’d like to know more. But I’ll never know everything.

Here’s an example. About a year ago I was in a discussion group talking about the US Government, and the government of another country that many of us consider an enemy. One lady said, “All I want is to know the truth.”

I watched her to be sure she was serious. Then asked, “The truth about what?” Following her tongue-tied response, I asked why she thought she could learn the truth. I explained that we had all the information available, filtered by the providing media source. Her problem was, and ours is that we usually form opinions and make decisions without knowing the facts. She said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

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The first time that I recall anyone calling me an enigma was back in the mid-1980s. I was walking back to my office when one of my staff looked at the contents of my hands he said, “You’re an enigma.” I looked down at my hands, smiled at him, and asked why. “A Snickers candy bar and a Diet Pepsi. That makes no sense.” I hadn’t considered the conflict of the combo. I answered, “It does to me. I like them both. If I was interested in diet, it would be celery sticks and a glass of water.”

If an enigma is a person or thing that is “mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand,” may I add “and interesting” without changing the definition? If you are an enigma to me, that means I find you difficult to understand. So what? I may see you as interesting for that same reason. I should accept that is who you are.

If I ask you to explain what I see as a puzzling conflict in your behavior or opinions, and you do, are you still an enigma? Or is it my failure to understand the makes you an enigma?

The enigma phenomenon pronouncement is an outside view. The inside view usually makes perfect sense. Furthermore, if people change behavior or opinion, are they still enigmatic?

I am an enigma to many. Here’s why.

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I spent over 45 years working in the Department of Defense (military, contractor, and civil service). I graduated from the most conservative (by most measures) public university in the country. I’m an old white guy who lived in Texas most of my life, and most of my long term acquaintances are conservative, republican, and religious. Stereotype me based on that and you’ll get me wrong, as many do.

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Politically, I’m a left of center moderate democrat. Depending on the issue, I’m often liberal, but I often find myself defending traditional things. I am fairly disciplined, but a good and flexible listener. I am an atheist who spent too many years trying to be that church guy. My past, age, race, education, and former residence belie the real me.

Love and peace are the answers. We should do all we can to avoid wars. After that, I think the limited, partial measures war-like actions of the past were folly. War should be fought to win. Because war is so ugly, that goal is only reasonable after all peaceful measures have failed. Talking war is a murky swamp full of traps. But I think we need to apply logic to our policies so that we can stop being on the losing end.

I’m neutral regarding the term open minded. I prefer a willingness to hear some other points of view, to be accepting of what I can, but to hold to my beliefs until information changes my mind.

I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, and lived a lot; but I can still be perplexed about myself. So, if you’re confused, maybe you should be. My wheels turn slower than they used to, but they’ve not stopped.

enigma

To keep an open mind, look both ways.