A to Z Reveal – The Weird World of Indexed Skepticism (according to Bill)

During April, Dispassionate Doubt posts will be personal definitions, explanations, and conclusions regarding gods or other sundry beliefs, superstitions, religious practices, and logic fallacies held or done by otherwise normal, intelligent human beings.

I will not set out to offend. However, some folks, such as hard-core Evangelical Protestants, Southern Baptists, devout Roman Catholics, Muslims of any sect, or people who are super serious about god, religion, metaphysical philosophy, or some other ontological fantasy may sense an unintended mild ribbing.

I may unintentionally omit some things, but I’ll try to give no woo-woo a pass. These may not be the posts for you, but I hope you read them and take no offense. People do weird shit and it’s funny.

I’ll select terms relevant to the beliefs, deceptions, and delusions many of us face along with some I think too unusual to pass up. I hope to provide explanations that expand the various thoughts and ideas, some of which may be new to you. I’ll keep it as simple as possible.

I use some references, but these are mostly my ideas. I’ll be as real, accurate, true, or humorous as possible given my personally sober, eye rolling, skeptical observations, with a dash of the ironic.

I’m told controversy is interesting and I want to be interesting. I may permit the cloud of adult language to shade some posts, but if I use too many of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, (<—adult content) the A-Z Admins may act. I have no such plans. They’ll have enough to do.

The theme, or purpose, is to address terms and issues related to human beliefs, deceptions, delusions, and pseudoscientific phenomena (pronounced woo-woo) from this skeptic’s point of view, for which I expect to be corrected by believers and skeptics alike.

One man’s woo-woo, of course, is another’s deeply held belief system. ~ Julia Moskin

Do you recall The Penn & Teller series titled Bull Shit? My vision is a little bit like that, only without all the effort, accuracy, expertise, or time devoted to a single issue – mostly it’s my written opinion. Capisce?

Examples of what the A to Z words could be like are:

  1. Agnostics: are soft atheists who do not want to piss anyone off.
  2. Godless Heathen: is a very specific way to identify an atheist with attitude.
  3. Demonic Possession: is something that never seems to happen to an atheist.
  4. Nones: are people who, when getting to the question of what religion they are, check mark none. They may be nothing, anything (even atheists), or undecided. Not the same as no preference. The opposite of a nun.

I won’t reuse these. My definitions and explanations will be longer and maybe more serious, but I’ll keep them short enough for a quick read.

This TED talk by Michael Shermer is about 15 minutes, but he gets my (his) point across better than I ever could. Watch it if you can.

Hope to see you on Monday, April Fools Day (how apropos!) for A to Z, but I will be posting up some stuff between now and then.

***Bill

Scientific prayer makes God a celestial lab rat, leading to bad science and worse religion. ~ Michael Shermer

Advertisements

Catholic Church Imputes Atheism to Believers

This is my second discussion dealing with The Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) positions on atheism as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Two numbered paragraphs from the CCC are in italics followed by my retort.

2125 — Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. “Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.”

The first part of the above would be improved by saying “…it denies the probability of the existence of any gods…” but the struggle here is with truth and clarity. I use the plural for all deities. Keep in mind that the RCC agrees with me about all gods except theirs, be it one, two, or a trinity. Would this mean that the RCC sins against the virtue of other religions?

Many Christians are 100% certain that one god exists, yet they reject virtually everything about the Catholic faith and the Church. They also get a lot wrong about the RCC, but is that not sin?

Atheists simply conclude there is no god. That is a little different than rejecting, a word used to mislead the misled. Indeed, many contemporary atheists reject religion for two reasons. First, since there is no god, religion is pointless. Second, religion is harmful.

If you want more on how religion is harmful, read Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina. I will soon post a review of Christina’s book.

Regarding the impunability of the offense, I ask no forgiveness, nor do I credit any religion for my conclusion that no gods exist. A big up yours to the writer who would suggest such shallowness on the part of people who would subject themselves to threats of death or violence by the people of god for simply telling the truth. Many people claim a belief in god (or gods) and reject all organized religion. That’s a good start. But they are not atheist.

However, there is a valid point made when the Catechism implies that some believers (without saying evangelistic Protestants) contribute to atheism. I know many atheists who would agree, but in my case nothing about any religion or the Bible contributed to my conclusion about any gods. Indeed, the failure of religion to address reality and truth reinforce my already embraced convictions that no gods have ever existed, and that religion is generally bad.

2126 — Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God. Yet, “…to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God…. For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart.”

If there is no god, humans are autonomous. That is just how it works. It is called secular self-government, self-determination, or if you like, separation of church and state. This truth has been a thorn in the side of religion for as long as there has been such a thing. The basic assumption of most Christianity is that atheists will spend an eternity suffering in Hell along with many others, most of whom simply slid off the rails of righteousness in the eyes of a god or some religion. What is dignified about that? Threatening, yes. This paragraph has no credibility, in my view.

Be it because of ignorance or anger, the CCC has a lot wrong about atheism. I think the one thing they do have correct is that contemporary atheism is as much a threat to all religion as free thinking is to all despotism and for similar reasons.

“The Catholics get rid of the difficulty by setting up an infallible Pope, and consenting formally to accept his verdicts, but the Protestants simply chase their own tails. By depriving revelation of all force and authority, they rob their so-called religion of every dignity. It becomes, in their hands, a mere romantic imposture, unsatisfying to the pious and unconvincing to the judicious.” ― H.L. Mencken, H.L. Mencken on Religion

Catholicism Challenges Atheism

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

This poetic quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes applies to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and its interest in and argument with atheism.

This is my first (and longest) essay about how the RCC officially views atheism and my retort. I used the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as my primary resource for the official stand. It was produced by the Vatican and approved (blessed?) by a pope.

I don’t expect the RCC to know much about or to understand atheism (they are not atheist). During Vatican II, they tried. I do expect them to be honest, even if that means saying we don’t know. Maybe they feel that if they were honest, they might provide support to non-belief. Perhaps they would. I was Roman Catholic (RC), so I know that church officials should understand the frustration when others get you wrong. Even many Catholics do not understand their faith, much less Protestants and non-Christians.

I prefer to charge the writers of the Catechism with ignorance rather than malfeasance. Yet they seem to equivocate and create things that are not contextually correct. I realize that the text on atheism was written for the faithful to ensure that they reject any forms of thought leading to atheism. The CCC says, “Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time.” I expect that. But they got a lot wrong.

In the apostolic constitution Fidei depositum, John Paul II declared the CCC a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.

The following, paraphrased or quoted in italics, are taken from the CCC.

Forms (or phenomena) of Atheism

(see CCC paragraphs 2123-2124)

Atheists either do not perceive man’s vital bond to God or they explicitly reject it.

If there was or is a god for man or woman to bond to, we’d be quite bondable. To us, this is like discussing the contents of a vacuum. It makes no sense. But worse, it implies and encourages the idea that atheists reject a god that exists, which is not the case. One cannot reject that which does not exist. God is a myth. How does one reject myth?

It follows, however, that if no god exists, all religions, which are man-made, are coincidently rejected. When you believe that the priest does Mass in place of a god (Jesus), and that the wheat wafer is the actual god (Jesus), and you do so for two-thousand years, it is a huge mental leap to understand the non-existence of your basic premise: a god. Consider this: is it possible for a practicing Roman Catholic not to perceive man’s vital bond to God? Of course, it is. But would that make him or her atheist? No!

Atheism takes many forms (different phenomena):

Belief in a god or gods and the multitude of accompanying religions do indeed take many forms. Philosophies and world views take many forms. Not so for atheism. This may be the most difficult concept for people to grasp, especially members of organized religions such as the Vatican-based, bureaucratic, RCC. Maybe it’s too simple for them.

Few believers (if any today) conclude on their own that there is a god. However, virtually all atheists conclude (to varying degrees) that no god exists. A person in Africa, another in South America, a third in Europe, and an Eskimo floating on the Bering Sea may have different opinions and philosophies, but their atheism would be the same: gods do not exist or are at least very unlikely. Other thoughts and opinions probably will be different, but on the one single issue, they see that the same way.

One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to life on earth (space and time).

Or, in my preferred words, right here, right now. Practical materialism is a philosophical concept that applies to the rise of health and wealth Christian religious denominational beliefs and practices. It is not a form or type of atheism, although any person may be atheist and accept or follow it. This mixes two independent things and misleads people who read the Catechism. I live in America. I want to have my health and enough money. I would like to think that is practical. RC religious are paid employees with health insurance. They are no less materialistic than I.

As far as materialism is concerned, is not unbridled capitalism focused on materialism? And the Vatican? Good grief. The RCC is no stranger to materialism. As we say in Texas, that sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black (Trappists notwithstanding).

And yes, a good life on earth is what many atheists work hard to make happen. It is very much a part of the anti-religious sentiment held by many (probably most) atheists, because religion with an eye toward life after death tends to degrade the value and importance of life on Earth. I would not accuse the RCC of that. But not believing in any afterlife, much less a permanent one, has nothing to do with practical materialism. Here again, the Catechism, its writers, and approvers are misleading the Catholic faithful.

Atheistic humanism which sees man as having supreme control of his (or her) own history.

This is another deceptive twisting of truth. For example, all Catholics are Christians. Not all Christians are Catholics. And, some Christians do not consider any Catholics to be Christian. Many (about 75%) Humanists are atheist, but not all. And not all atheists are humanists. I’m not. Humanism is a philosophy relating to the role of mankind, whereas atheism is the conclusion that no gods exist. I doubt if anyone controls the past or even thinks they (or we) can. If the Catechism were to say that Humanists see man as having control or responsibility for the future, that might be closer to the truth.

Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. “It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man’s hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth.”

Any person’s philosophy could be all of this, but that does not define atheism. I am sort of stuck on the liberation of man through economic and social liberation thing. I am a contemporary atheist, so I should see it that way. Even the RCC would agree that some religions do thwart a better life; many Muslim sects, for example.

Important note: all religion is not the RCC. Some very clearly do exactly and openly what we accuse them of.

Indeed, when it is all about life after death, earthly progress can be thwarted. However, I do not see the RC Church having that problem nearly as much as the more evangelical crowd. There are topics such as birth control (practiced by many RCs), stem cell research, end of life or right to die, and abortion issues that the RCC would be pleased to force on others, including atheists. Thus, discouraging or preventing progress and people’s right to make choices (pursuit of happiness?).

Bill Reynolds 3/11/2019

“I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds.” ~ from The Unbeliever and Christians, in Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays, [1948] 1964, p. 48.

Catholicism Explains Athesism

Goal

I am in the process of writing a few short essays about how the Catholic Church views atheism, agnosticism, and (by default) much of Protestantism. I intend to present the Church’s outlook in the sense of Roman Catholic leadership and authority of that old religion, and The Church as an institution. We do not need another tiresome bashing of any of the -isms, but the errors of understanding should be corrected, even if that boils down to my opinion. I shall not address the sexual abuse problems.

Credentials

I am a cradle catholic who was raised in the church. I remained a catholic (either practicing or not) from my baptism at about 8 days of age until my mid-sixties, when I finally began my apostate transition into a convinced atheist. I have attended protestant churches with my family as a Catholic member, but I never claimed to be Episcopalian, Methodist, Disciple of Christ (First Christian), or another Christian variant, and no one ever seemed to care. I would not like to be called a catholic-atheist, but I would not object too loudly, oxymoron or not.

I grew up in a multidenominational Christian family, which included elements of Presbyterian and Lutheran by intermarriage, and Episcopalian by my choice. I have read all books of the Bible. I attended Bible Study Fellowship (Baptist) for a time. I taught Bible Studies and Religious Education classes to both children and adults for years in a large Catholic Parish (church). I served as a church leader in several ministerial roles including four years on the Parish Council, the last two as the President.

I have read The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety, and reread passages many times. I may not recall all of it. My copy was multi-colored with highlights and underlines and was well-worn with yellow tabs marking more than a hundred pages. It’s a really big book (sorry, AA).

Since coming out by saying, “Yes. I am atheist” I have read, written, watched, and attended; atheist books, articles, blogs, discussions, and videos as a manner of self-education regarding the confusing maze known as free-thinking, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, or other unbelief-ism variants. The pile gets higher and deeper with all the science, philosophy, psychology, and miscellaneous facts that one must plow into to protect oneself from the flow of self-righteous animosity and self-pity of the people who demand that I know as much as any god (and then some). As research for this effort, I travelled back in time to personally observe how the universe came to be, since I could no longer fill that gap with any god as a scapegoat for my ignorance.

Purpose

My reason for this is to justify the atheist (mine) point of view and to point out the errors of the leadership of the largest Christian denomination in the world. I believe that in background, education, ability, and desire, I am suitably qualified to write these essays. I want to defend atheism and all forms of free thinking. I do not wish to attack anyone or any religion (for now), but I will disagree. So, it should be safe for believers to read my essays. I cannot predict what will happen in comments or how individual interpretation may affect reactions. But I promise to be nice.

Bill Reynolds 3/6/2019

Pope Quote

Are You Ready?

The following text is from a brochure I wrote. At the end, on the back page, I wrote this.

Why did I write this? Atheism is poorly understood by believers, and atheists are unfairly condemned simply for what they may think. I’ve always dealt kindly with those people trying to convince me of things religious and godly; however, the last time I was publicly accosted and handed a religious tract, I decided that I would write my own. Turn-about is fair play. If you read mine, I’ll read yours.

I did not wish to anger anyone, but many people are upset to learn that someone does not believe in any god, much less theirs. However, if my words plant a seed of apostasy, I would be pleased.

Are you ready to consider being atheist, agnostic, a skeptic, or a free thinker?

 Why should you consider atheist or agnostic? Because there is no evidence that god exists. There is no proof of heaven, hell, purgatory, or limbo. Add angels, devils, and other bizarre spirits of religious myth. Religions are human creations often used by people to harm or control others. Historically, god or religion justified atrocities against fellow humans. That continues today – it’s madness.

Is atheism right for you? If you doubt the existence of a supreme being or a god, you’re on track to be agnostic or atheist. If you do not believe in any god, you are atheist. If you think maybe not, you’re agnostic.

Keep in mind, virtually nobody believes all historical gods existed. Most religious people acknowledge one god through one of three main Abrahamic religions (Jewish, Christian, or Muslim) consisting of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of denominations, sects, branches, or churches, some intent on killing all others in the name of that one god. If you don’t find that bizarre, stop reading, toss this in recycling, and have a good life.

What is atheism? Atheism is a conclusion – it’s not a religion. Nor is it a philosophy or world view such as humanism, nihilism, or another ontological variant. Atheism, however, does contribute to how you see the world, and vice-versa, just as any belief, doubt, or religion would.

There are no followers of atheism as in the religious sense of disciples. An atheist is simply someone who has concluded (on their own) that there are no gods. An agnostic would say probably or maybe not.

How should you decide to consider atheism? The decision you make is simple. If you think there is no god, or there is no proof, or that god is unlikely, then you are already a free thinker. For some people, the question of the existence of a god is a longer term thought process.

Ok, you are an atheist or agnostic. Now what? Once you’ve made your decision, it’s easy. You can stop right there. You don’t have to do anything or tell anyone. Many atheists remain in the closet for a long time after deciding there’s no god.

There is no required reading. However, both supporting and opposing literature are plentiful. You needn’t confess anything or attend meetings or services. Atheism is not organized, but there are atheist-oriented and free-thinker groups and alliances. You don’t have to give anyone money or ask for forgiveness.

How will you feel? While it is different for everyone, having no religious belief and concluding gods don’t exist can be empowering. Instead of following a restrictive religion, you become an integral part of an entire planet of free-thinkers. Yet, you physically and mentally remain the person you have always been. Some atheists, like humanists and certain Buddhists, meditate and have a strong spiritual base, even though they believe in no god. Perhaps the best reasons to consider atheism (or coming out as atheist) are relief and freedom.

What must you believe? Nothing. You don’t have to accommodate uncomfortable aspects of any religion, dogma, or scripture with which you disagree. Given more information, facts, or credible evidence, you may decide differently. Belief in a deity is the only obvious disqualifier.

What rules must you follow to be atheist? Atheism has no rules, no headquarters, no spokesperson, and no scripture. There are no official councilors, spiritual advisors, ministers, or leaders. Whatever you make of atheism, feel free to experience and appreciate the awe and wonder of the world and the universe as you see them.

What must you know? Science answers fundamental and advanced questions and is searching for more answers. Our scientific knowledge gaps are exciting, filled with wonder, and allow for personal imaginations to soar without contrived supernatural answers.

While you need not provide proof that no god exists, atheists, often called skeptics, ask for proof that any god exists, if we are asked to believe it: a reasonable request. We accept what has been proved, but we’re open to what has not.

What about morality? Don’t atheists lack a moral compass? A concern for some non-atheists is the question of morality. Atheists are as moral as people who believe in a god and are often on higher moral ground than many believers. People who embrace atheism do not walk away from their core moral beliefs. Keep the moral compass you have.

Freedom from religious doctrine allows you to follow the ancient human compulsion to treat others as you would like them to treat you, without ascribing your personal morality to any specific religious instruction or acting out of fear of retribution from a god. Nothing about your moral fiber changes as an atheist. This life is of prime importance to atheists.

The decision is always yours to make.

***

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
~ Christopher Hitchens