Two More Atheist Stuffs

Morality

Let me try to get this right. If I say that I doubt the existence of any gods thus far divulged by humanity, people like Steve Harvey, Oprah W., the late George H. W. Bush, and millions of others will stamp me an immoral and untrustworthy person no matter how I live my life. Bush would even deny my citizenship (with all due respect for his pardons for the Iran-Contra criminals).

If I say I believe in a god, especially if it’s theirs, then I am not branded quite as despicable. And if I’m a truly saved Southern Baptist, my behavior becomes irrelevant because I believe and done got saved (once saved, always saved). If I say I believe, even if it is a god damn lie, it’s good enough.

I doubt that any believers feign atheism. But I am certain that many atheists or agnostics, by either omission or action, pretend to believe in a god when they do not or have serious doubts. I have, on occasion, either gone along with something religious or kept my mouth shut about it, and sometimes I still do. It’s not an easy thing to do either way. While I am not closeted, I don’t wear atheist on my shirtsleeve (except for this blog) because it makes my life and that of my spouse safer.

What is so wrong about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? Do we all need biblical reference or religious dogma to back up our choices of right and wrong? The truly sad part of this is that I suspect more than a few agnostics and atheists buy into the myth that religious people are more moral because they belong to a religion or believe one of those gods exist. There is no evidence for the claim that believers are more moral than atheists. We’re all just a bit brain washed!

For all of us, morality exists on a continuum and may change with circumstances. But what is more immoral, judging others as bad or evil simply for what they believe? Or, judging people based on their behavior regardless of religion or spiritual path?

Numbers

When research groups like Pew, Gallup, Harris, and others attempt to determine something, they take a poll by asking questions. Why would someone say they are atheist or do not believe in god if it might cause them a problem? Try this.

Q> What religion are you? A> Ummm….none.
Q> Do you believe in God? A> Ummm, uh, kind of, yes, I think something.
Q> Do you masturbate? A> Absolutely not. Never.
Q> Do you think God is watching you? A> What?

One guy called The Atheist Experience and claimed 95% of people believe in a god. His estimate went unchallenged and only his logic error was addressed. I agree with what Christopher Hitchens opined on the topic of percentage of believers and non-believers. I think that much more than 20% of US Citizens are atheist (although a yes or no answers can be hard to get). Only a small percentage of us admit/claim/embrace it. No one knows and will never know how many or what percentage do not really believe in any gods.

When I read the Pew numbers for the central Texas county I live in, it claimed 60% were nones; meaning they do not practice or align with any specific religion. Every atheist in this county falls into that group, including me, whether we admit atheism or not. However, there are certainly exceptions.

If you want more, this link has an excellent article on the subject.

 

Bill

Dumber than Dirt

Useless as tits on a boar hog is an idiomatic phrase, which I first heard my native Texan, country-girl wife mutter regarding a person, usually a male of the lower producing variety.

But idiom aside, why do males have nipples? I had to bandage or petroleum jelly mine, lest they bleed on my shirt when I ran long distances. Boobs and nipples make sense for feeding babies and attracting some mates, but bleeding nips are a painful nuisance. Fingernails I get; but toenails have what purpose other than something that needs cutting, painting, and poking holes in socks?

I like hair, but what’s it for? We have hats, right? And babushkas, scarves, and do-rags. Is there such a thing as a functional facial hair follicle? What is an appendix for (in a body, not a book) if we can remove it and be better off? Let’s not get into foreskin, but why trim and tuck that?

Belly buttons I understand; likewise, toes, ankles, and knees have a purpose, like lungs and teeth. Brains are good, but some are under exercised (so I’m told).

How did all this happen? Do you think a god did it? A determined and delightful deity big daddy with a deadly sense of humor? I mean, we have sex, but we also have so many foibles, fetishes, and perversions. What’s all that about?

I doubt it was a god or many, or any. Otherwise my wife would have to find some other disparaging idiom, like dumber than a box of rocks.

 

Poetry: Reality Pray

objecting to your prayers feels like
I am rejecting your love,
your caring, your helping me
get past a difficult time. I am grateful
for you and that you care and that you love
or care about me.

yet, if you really care
look at me—touch me,
talk to me. a hug is okay.

but please. must I accept that you will
shoot a quick message to your almighty
who will then correct or change the cold facts
I now face? please stop denying reality
and pretending your prayers
make a difference or change anything.
they do not!

the only miracles are those events
science, money and power create.
thanks anyway.

with love and appreciation,
bill

 

Quotes Attributed to Buddha

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Or, the mind is everything. What you think, you become, which are apparently fake quotes probably drafted from, whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.

I am looking at my statue of a meditating Buddha sitting on a shelf just across the room. Twenty years ago, a Catholic/Christian apologist said that if I had a statue of Buddha at home it was a serious sin. In my manner of reacting to such nonsense, I had mine within the week. I also have a meditation candle, a gift from my daughter. It has been sitting in my room for more than 20 years, usually near or around the statue of Siddhartha, which is also the title of a good novel.

Back in the 90s, I read extensively about eastern philosophy and religions such as Taoism and Buddhism as part of my spiritual growth at the time. Many are surprised to learn that I found the true living and enlightened Buddha, alive and well at a mall in San Antonio.

I approached the short chunky monkey buddha and asked him if it would be okay if I left my family and became a monk. He looked at me and started to laugh. He has been unable to stop. From that experience we now have the famous Laughing Buddha statue, which may not be a Buddha at all, but an alleged Chinese monk from 1,500 years after Siddhartha Gautama Buddha presumably hung out in what is now India.

I am not and never have been Buddhist. You may be interested to know that the singer and poet, Leonard Cohen, was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996, but he was never of any other religion than observant Jew his entire life. I’ve had friends who claimed to be Gautama followers, but Buddhists savor sobriety and too many of my tribe did not. What I think attracted many of them was much of the background philosophy and supporting New Age woo-woo. The same may have been true of Cohen.

I do not believe in karma, reincarnation or rebirth, Nirvana (other than the band), past life regression, or any other life after death credo. However, wisdom is wisdom and I hang on to what I think fits into my one life reality. I think meditation is probably healthy, greed is bad, humility will always be an elusive benefit, and the application of some eastern idioms could cure the overabundance of assholes and trolls in the neighborhood, if not the world.

Without splitting hairs and taking the we are (or attract) what we think quote at face value, it reminds me of several idioms I like: we are what we do; right here, right now; it is what it is; and if you check, maybe this fourth one, not everything has to have a point. Somethings just are, which I attribute to Judy Blume. But are we what we have thought? I’m not so sure.

This form of consciousness seems to be mixed up with the concept of free will. Are we what we think? Or what we do? Or do we even have any idea who we are? Do we have control over what we think, our thoughts, or our minds? I’ve heard thoughts euphemistically referred to as voices. What of the hours lying in bed worrying or thinking about things we try not to invite into our thoughts—things which are out of our control? Do we channel those thoughts into who we are, or is mind madness in charge of what we think?

The simple question follows, are we what we think? Or, as my Irish-Catholic father would say to me; who in the hell do you think you are? It was a strained relationship.

Indeed, over the years I have thought things to be true and sometime later decided differently. Having an open mind (if that is possible) in the long run, learning and thinking and being willing to say that we were wrong or mistaken has more to do with who we are than the ideas or thoughts themselves.

There is little doubt that our thoughts, convictions, and mind-sets affect how we see the world. Another idiom is: change your mind, change the world.

Much of the turmoil regarding such phrases for followers of Buddha and his teachings involves translation of old scripture. The messiness and confusion with translation from language, time, culture, and overall interpretation can lead to several chapters in a book.

Another problem is the insistence by some people of making shit up and then attributing it to someone famous who may have never said or wrote it. Welcome to the internet age.

I have a framed art piece on my wall. It is an image of Charles Bukowski with the words find what you love and let it kill you. I like Bukowski. I read his poetry, and I even make notes of how he turned a phrase. The problem is that old Hank apparently never said that kill you thingy nor did he write it, even as character dialogue. But still, I like it and I’ll not be tossing the art. The truth is that the association with Bukowski is false, even if I can’t prove he never said it.

Another poetic translation from Buddhist scripture on the mind is a version by Gil Fronsdal, who renders the first two verses as:

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows,
Like a never-departing shadow.

From a Buddhist perspective, thoughts constitute part of our actions, but only a part of them. What we are is indeed a combination of actions determined by thoughts and feelings. I think life is all about how we feel, but I hope for intellect before emotion in making wise choices.

Furthermore, we cannot ignore past experiences in figuring out who we are. But the primary determining, limiting, and deciding factor is from genetics: DNA. Perhaps some day we can engineer that in such a way as to control ourselves and our existence better. For now, it is what it is. It may even effect how and what we think or believe.

No. All that I have thought over the years does not determine what I am.

Let’s try one more contemporary quotation from Steven Pinker: Our minds are adapted to a world that no longer exists, prone to misunderstandings correctable only by arduous education, and condemned to perplexity about the deepest questions we can ascertain.

Bill

What are you afraid of?

This essay is based upon the post, The How of Atheism?, from the blog ‘TheCommonAtheist.’

Fear is a normal human emotion. Usually, it’s a beneficial one. But it can be a choke point in human progress.

For example, when I first started riding a motorcycle I progressed to high-speed highway driving. With no seat belt, no metal cage surrounding me with air bags, and no safety devices, other than what I was wearing; traveling upwards of 70 miles per hour surrounded by cars with drivers poorly skilled or foolish, with parts of my body passing unprotected only inches from hard, hot pavement, and all of me exposed to natural and unnatural elements; I was scared riding my motorcycle. It is inherently dangerous. Known danger begets fear, but sometimes the same risk elicits pleasure.

Anytime while riding a motorcycle you need to be alert but relaxed and loose enough to respond at any speed. Instructors will tell you to be relaxed because body tension will hamper both physical response and mental judgment. I agree. Being alert and aware was no problem. However, the amount of body tension caused by fear is overwhelming and no amount of relax, relax, calm down was going to alleviate it. Experience over time helps, but the other side of the confidence curve has probably resulted in more serious accidents than bodily tension.

Fear of extinction (Psychology Today’s term for fear of death or dying) is a big deal. It’s normal, they say. If you add to that religion’s threats of permanent torture (Hell), you have raised someone’s anxiety level regarding death significantly. But not for everyone. There have always been atheists in fox holes and some have died there. In the USA, we remember them on Memorial Day.

To many believers merely doubting the existence of god is your ticket to Hell. It doesn’t matter how wonderfully charitable and loving you’ve lived your life. Religion has its dark and irrational side.

In his post, Jim postulates that atheism mitigates that fear better than a religion, especially Christianity or Islam.

I do not fear extinction. I agree in that I fear the pain and suffering of the dying process more than I fear its completion. Leonard Cohen said the same thing in an interview. Cohen also said, I was dead before I was born, and I recall no problems (I’m paraphrasing).

I recall my mother declining my offer to call a priest for last rights when she was dying. Mom was not atheist, but she said that after years of ignoring her religion she was not about to start then, a remarkable thing for a Catholic to say about the last sacrament in the face of death. She also said, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” I did not request elaboration.

Leaning on parts from Jim’s post a bit more, Atheism is

trusting your own judgment and weighing evidence,
realizing that humans are easily deceived and manipulated by guilt,
accepting the natural goodness and innocence of humanity,
accepting human rationality, reason, and the inevitability of death.
acceptance of the here and now and responsibility derived from reality;
a fundamental rejection of fear-based belief in gods and religious prescriptions of morality associated with fear of retribution.
And it embraces the uniqueness of the individual and it is a personal claim to integrity.

To paraphrase (Jim and Paul), Oh death, where is my fear of thy sting?

Here are a few more quotes that are linked to the source. But they certainly stand alone and are based more on academic research than this old skeptic’s pondering.

So non-believers are not only distrusted; they also stir up morbid thoughts, and perhaps raise discomforting doubts about what happens after we die.

First, that fear motivates religious belief, and second, that religious belief mitigates fear. And…While the fear of actual death—painfully, slowly—is apparent, the existential crisis encountered at the prospect of nothingness appears to cause the most anxiety.

Bill

When I First Believed and Didn’t

“What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous? And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”—-Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, 1988

“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”—Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892, Act III (Mr. Dumby to Cecil Graham)

I was baptized before I was two weeks old. I don’t recall much of that day. I don’t think I believed in God or any of the other religious things I later would. The religious reason for the Catholic Sacrament at that age was that if I had died, I would not go to heaven unless baptized. I would go to Limbo with all the other unbaptized, until the Church decided that Limbo did not really exist.

I went to a Catholic school taught by nuns. We didn’t go to Mass in Kindergarten, but starting with First Grade, 9:00 a.m. Mass (in Latin) was mandatory. We sat up front with our class, boys on one side, girls on the other until graduation at the end of 8th grade. I went to public high school for 9th through 12th grade.

In grade school, I was taught about God, Jesus, the Blessed Trinity, and all the religious stuff I could fit into my brain. I believed it. I had some arguments about it with my father because I stood by what the nuns and priests told us. He was old school and much stricter. He always had the option of asking the ordained and religious, but he never did.

To the extent that a boy between the ages of six and fourteen can believe what he has been told about god and all the other religious stuff, I believed. I can’t say that I had a specific Jesus is my lord and savior moment because we didn’t do that.

In my personal world, I believed two other things: everyone I knew was Catholic and everyone believed in god. Neither was correct. I can’t say exactly when I came to believe of my own volition, or even if I did.

In the summer of 1960, I turned 14. That September I began an excursion into the realities of the somewhat secular educational world. I did not escape having god and religion forced upon me. We still prayed in school and had bible readings (mandatory state law) until June of 1963. My senior year began the following September.

After that, neither prayer nor bible reading could be constitutionally mandated or school sponsored. I would not have labeled myself as a nonbeliever at that point. A serious doubter might work. During that final year of high school, I was probably a practical atheist in that while I considered myself to be Catholic, I did not practice the religion.

Thirty years later, during the 1990s my religious opinions and behaviors might be viewed as a metal ball bouncing around the playing field of a pinball machine. The flippers and bumpers would knock me into other ideas or possibilities. I’d bounce off one bumper and into another, then another.

In the mid-90s, my spiritual reading and experimenting increased. I was a nonbeliever trying to believe. I was a seeker or searcher in the spiritual sense. I became seriously interested in eastern religious thought, spirituality, and meditation, some of it New Age nonsense. During that time I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, and decided to give Catholicism one more try.

Merton described seeing a deeply religious woman in a church. He envied her faith. I had the same experience. I was going to do everything I could to get this god and religion thing right. I convinced myself that there was a god. I felt that I had overcome my doubts forever. For almost 12 years, I did.

It was a cannonball dive into the deep end of the Christian religion and the Catholic Church. I did everything I could: taught bible study and religious education to adults and children, belonged to as many ministries as I could make time for. Eventually, I was elected President of the Parish Council for two years in our large Parish of more than five thousand families. I even began the process of being ordained as a Deacon, something not taken lightly in the Church or by me, and second only to becoming a Priest. I withdrew late in the process.

I recall teaching an adult class on The Problem of Evil. It had gone well. At the end of the class one lady raised her hand and asked me how I reconciled everything that I had just said with what I believed as a practicing Catholic. I don’t recall my answer.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen, lyrics from his song, Anthem

That was when my transition from Christian to Atheist began. Within two years I walked away from the Catholic Church for good. I disavowed my Catholic faith in writing. Soon thereafter I realized that I did not believe in the existence of any gods, demons, spirits, heaven or hell, or any of it.

I retired three years after leaving the Church and we moved again to yet another state. After about a year there, I was openly atheist. There are several key events and conclusions along my road to disbelief. Each conclusion was preceded by a long time of study, thought, and deciding. That continues.

Just as there was not a date and time when I believed, there was not a specific moment when I decided that I’m a convinced atheist. The metamorphosis was gradual. I simply and incrementally walked away from it all.

They Believed in the Hog Apocalypse

 

In religion, faith is trust in some belief. Believers often think faith is confidence with a perceived degree of warrant. I would have said for a reason.

I think faith is belief without evidence. If it’s not, as many believers want to claim, show me the evidence for what you believe.

My question is why do we believe what we do? Regarding religion or belief in a god, the answer is often faith. There are other answers, but as reasons change, beliefs likewise morph and twist. With most people it seems more complex, but eventually the answer appears to be either a choice or faith.

Since choice seems rational and based on some form of evidence (scripture, existence, what else could it be?), faith is usually the last argument standing, if you can call it that. It is not long before logic has been cast into the flames of the argument.

I’ve read several claims that faith is something other than belief without evidence, none of which seemed very good unless you happen to be a person of faith. Belief based on faith (or feelings or what one wants) seems rational to the believer.

I used to hike and trail-run at a wilderness area called Government Canyon, near San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. I’ve been there often and have seen the evidence of wildlife: a coyote or two, the occasional snake, scat of all kinds, and turned soil caused by hogs. I never saw a hog or heard one. I’ve only witnessed their mess. The biggest danger for me was the mountain bikers, some of whom thought I had rearward looking radar.

I’ve read no accounts of hikers being mauled by hogs, but I’m sure it’s happened, especially in the state of Arkansas. Click here to see some dipshits hunting hogs, and being charged.

Then, I read this account of two hikers at my old stomping grounds. They heard hogs attacking, climbed a tree for safety, and called park rangers or 911 to rescue them. They waited safe and sound up the tree until the officer arrived. As they were talking, the two hikers heard the sound of the charging hogs and told the ranger they were under attack.

When he finally stopped laughing, he invited them down from the tree. The kind ranger explained that what they heard was a car driving over rumble strips on a nearby road. To be fair to the two (who maybe ought not be out alone), there are hogs there. They do get pissed if people bother them (like hunters), and paranoia strikes deep, like in the old Buffalo Springfield tune For What It’s Worth:

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the men come and take you away

At least it wasn’t the devil they were worried about. Yet, neither did they have enough evidence for such paranoid faith as to believe in the attack of the feral hogs. They transferred their faith to the police officer who had to hike in and rescue them from their own imaginary fears.

Yet, people believe much more crazy shit with far less evidence or any real likelihood. Then they expect others to believe it too, and they are mortified when one of us says, it’s really not what you think it is.

Bill

 

If you’re really into the why people (we) believe what we do, Godless in Dixie has a great piece about it. Click here to see it.