Trend Watch: Religion

Happy Friday and welcome to the first day of Autumn for the top half of the globe. I was wondering why this word search happened.

Every 30 seconds of everyday, Merriam-Webster dot com tells us the top ten most popular words being looked up in their online dictionary. Based upon news and world events, it usually makes sense.

This is what they say about this feature, “Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.”

The other day number ten was the word religion.  Why now? Do the people doing the search not know the definition of religion? And why might they care?

Just to be sure, I often look up words that I know how to spell, pronounce, and how to define. I do not constitute a trend. I’m not sure how many it takes to merit the trend list. I have looked up the meaning of religion before. In this case, I wanted the exact dictionary definition.

The three definitions of religion listed are:

  1. 1. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
  2. (a/1): the service and worship of God(s) or the supernatural, or (a/2) the commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.
  3. (b): It is the state of a religious (like a nun in her 20th year).
  4. A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

I have no argument with these definitions. I knew them. But why were so many people looking it up? What’s the cause or big deal?

For days, if not weeks, fascism has been in the top three. It was gone when I last checked. It’s been in the top ten for years. I get that.

Do you think someone is thinking, oh now, if it means that, then this is not a religion? They update the list about every 30 seconds, but still—religion? I find it oddly interesting.

A curious synonym for religion from the M-W online thesaurus is cult. I also agree with that connection. I was originally taken aback when I first read all religions are cults. Now I get it. Yes, they are.

You could say “so what?” or be insulted by that synonym. But one must remember, conversely, virtually all cults have a remarkable resemblance to a religion.

Bill

 

“We Are Angry”

Háu kola,

Mr. Hines, Chet to friends, was my high school government teacher. He was a tough and threatening ogre even back then. He taught my older siblings in a course called Problems of Democracy, initialized as POD. When I took it, the name was changed, and Hines said there are no problems with democracy. Yes, indeed there are problems. Keeping it is one.

He also said that our rights ended where his nose began.

As grim and stoic as he was, there was something I liked and respected about him. He made his position clear and offered to fight any of us should we desire physical confrontation. I don’t recall anyone rejecting his ultimatum, but some idiot probably did.

I was reminded of old Chet Hines when I read this article about Christians, one in particular, pissing off some Native American Tribes, the Oglala Lakota Nation, by insulting their cultural and religious heritage. Insult people’s religion and the cheese gets binding. This Christian got his evangelical panties in a wad when the Lakota leadership said enough of his rude bullshit.

To be fair, tribal leadership set rules for all religious groups on the reservation. I am talking about freedoms of and from religion and speech. Where is the beginning of tribal, cultural, or religious rights? Where does their metaphorical nose begin? Must indigenous people tolerate slanderous insult and injury because some Christians (cult or other religion) claim it is part of their religious freedom?

What about freedom from harassment by religious people (fanatics, missionaries, JWs, Mormons, evangelical whatevers)? What about those Lakota who are Christians (some are) and want to practice that? On the reservation, all such activity must be equally vetted and approved or not.

It is one thing to run around claiming Jesus loves you. It is another to claim, your family and tribal religion is from the devil, is evil, and you all are gunna burn in hell for eternity if you don’t believe me. And your past heroes were drunks, racists, and fools.

Dear Christians, these holier than thou crackpots are yours. They are not passing out bibles and baptizing willing souls in the river. They are insulting the very core of a people and their culture in exact defiance of what any normal person might do. They also have ignored all requests to stop.

This is classic religious persecution of a religion and ancient tribal belief system by a minority of Christians. But the stated goal of Christianity is to bring everyone into the group. This is also an obvious case of the fundamentalist bad guy playing the victim. And, for the record, this same jackass said that he does not even believe that Catholics are Christians (and he’s not alone).

Do I hear any objection from the six papists on the SCOTUS? Crickets!

Governance is a difficult and unpopular job. Add some religious bullshit and buffalo chips to the fire, and it may be time for the war paint.

Religious people often ask why atheists are openly and intentionally critical of religions. For two (and more) reasons. One, because aspects of many religions deserve the negative attention. In this case, tyrannical evangelistic proselytization by insulting not only the religion, but the culture and ancestry of people (i.e., turnabout is fair play).

Secondly, because as Christopher Hitchens said, “religion poisons everything.” And I agree.

As one of the Lakota leaders reportedly said, our objective is to decolonize mind, heart, spirit, land, and return to our Lakota ways; we don’t need any more churches to assimilate us. The reporter added, “Therein lies the rub surrounding the complex relationship in Indian Country with Christianity.”

Tókša akhé,

Bill

 

While this old song is about a different tribe, The Cherokee Nation, the long sad story remains the same. I’ve always like the tune, historically sad though it is.

What is an -ism?

Try this. Think of words ending with the suffix -ism: Paganism, plagiarism, criticism, racism, sexism, alcoholism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. Words tied to -isms include doctrines, causes, theories, attitudes, beliefs, acts, practices, processes, prejudices, conditions, religions, adherence to a system, characteristics, and traits. (merrian-webster.com)

That same dictionary also defines atheism as “a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods” and/or “a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods.”

How many -isms are defined by what they are not or do not do? There is no atheist doctrine, theory, belief, practice, process, prejudice, religion, or adherence to anything.

There are certainly atheists. I suspect more than anyone knows. There are also atheist groups and atheist organizations. People use the phrase, “as an atheist…” often. While I often push back on terms like true atheist and all atheists, both believers and atheists use such phrases. I try to avoid saying as an atheist and prefer the phrase because I do not believe any god exists. But what is atheism other than what an atheist does not believe exists?

I realize people say many false things about atheists and define what they call atheism to insult nonbelievers or to threaten, often dependent, closeted atheists, doubting believers, and their friends, family, and neighbors. Those are almost always ignorant lies, and that will not go away.

However, I, along with others, claim that while most -isms exist, atheism does not. While I am atheist, I have no doctrine to either follow or reject. I believe many things, just not that there really is any god. I have no atheist practices and worship nothing (including Satan, which, like any god, is unlikely to be). I have read social research that indicates some atheists believe there is a god. I call them enigmatic, if not confused, atheists.

There are many types of Jews and forms of Judaism. Same for Islamism. Within Christianity there is both Catholicism and Protestantism, but they are all Christians. Mormons claim to be Christians and lord knows they have their own set of practices (and underwear). Within all these groups lie doctrinaire differences, but they still have rules to debate or follow. Atheists have none of that. I, for one, want none of it.

So, how can atheism be a thing if it cannot be defined by what it is?

Happy National IPA, Underwear, Oyster, and Work Like a Dog Day.

Skeptically Yours,

Bill

God, Religion, and the Rabbi

The other day I read an old blog post by a Jewish Rabbi about The Difference Between God and Religion (title of his post). Reb Jeff says they are not the same thing. I agree, but only if the god or gods in question really exist.

I know many religious people wrap the two so tightly that they cannot conceptually separate them. I doubt if most believers could conceive of one without the other. A theist without theology.

Since the rabbi opened the door and put it out there, I am going to pick at his comments.

He wrote, “To me, God is manifest in the realization that I am here, and so are you, to fulfill a purpose and truth that is greater than any one of us individually.” (From Reb Jeff blog 8/18/2012, Italics mine). Jeff’s logic is that because you, he, and I exist, God not only exists, but is “manifest.” If that was true, there would be neither atheists nor agnostics.

Manifest means “readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight” and “easily understood or recognized by the mind: obvious” (merriam-webster.com). No god is obvious. None.

Furthermore, he got lost in the idea of living a pointless life without his god and his holy books. Based on what he wrote, without the Jewish God, Reb Jeff and his ilk cannot imagine a purposeful or fulfilling life. No news there. They subsequently reflect that position onto others, especially nonbelievers. How can you be happy if you cannot believe any god exits? Well, we are.

In the post, the rabbi speaks of “experiencing” God. Something not everyone does. Not even most believers. I never did. Experiencing is not manifestation. Psychoses and delusions can be experienced. Religion is experienced. Is God?

He also wrote, “You don’t need to be a mind reader to realize that a true atheist would not be concerned with the struggle to maintain faith.” Is the rabbi an expert in what a “true” atheist is? He is a reformed Jew. What if I claimed that he was not a true Jew?

Maybe he never heard of the true Scotsman fallacy. Anyway, I’ve been concerned with having faith and the “struggle to maintain faith,” my entire life. If the rabbi would say I am not a “true” atheist because I have such interests, he’d be wrong.

Then he says, “Atheism is the conviction that there is no God or gods (he’s wrong); no ultimate source of meaning (strike two), truth (wrong again) or morality (well, not the Torah) in the universe.” The whole universe?

He goes on, “How could a true atheist struggle with faith when atheism denies the very basis of faith?” He could have looked up the definition of atheism by atheists, but he did not. Maybe Reb Jeff should look up the meaning of faith and religion and God when he checks out the correct definition of atheism.

I suspect most atheists agree that people have faith whether God exists or not. Lord knows we hear it as the very reason many believe—not God’s manifestation. If God is obvious faith is unnecessary.

Some atheists are convinced to some degree that no god exists, but not all (at least as God is described by the Abrahamic religions).

As for terms like ultimate truth or morality in the whole fucking universe, I admit that I don’t know any universal ultimate truths except that death is real, and it seems to be wherever life exists. But my knowledge only applies to life on Earth. The old joke about three Jews having five opinions exists for a reason. Maybe I should ask three Rabbis and see how it goes.

I think separating religion and belief in god or gods is important for a better understanding of each. Rejecting religion makes room for varied conclusions about gods. However, as the rabbi implies, since I do not accept any belief in a real god (due to lack of evidence), thousands of religions become simple social/political organizations from my point of view.

The problem with seeing god and religion separately is that religion creates gods. Religions tell people who and what a god is and how to interact, relate, and what to believe about the god or gods. It’s contrived by humans. All religions thus become silly (some dangerous) psycho-social clubs.

Consequently, religious folks like good old Reb Jeff use terms (promises) like “experiencing God” to hold people to unnecessary social clubs, which they may enjoy, even as atheists.

Maybe that is why the rabbi thinks he must tolerate atheist-Jews showing up at the synagogue to be with other Jews. He claims they do.

Thank God for air conditioning.

Shalom,

Bill

What happens when a rabbi, a priest, and an atheist smoke (experience) pot?

 

On Biblical Fiction

I disagree with the claim that all atheists consider the bible a work of fiction. I am annoyed by that for two reasons. I didn’t like that someone else speaks for me about what I think or believe. Second, in my opinion, even for an atheist to make such a claim is as much folly as declaring all scripture fact.

Is the Bible a book of fiction? If you consider it either fact or fiction, perhaps it is. My dictionary says fiction is “something invented by the imagination or feigned.” Fiction is intentionally so.

Good story tellers of truth or fiction are rare and endangered artists. I humorously refer to the stories I write as lies or fibs (terms literalists might struggle with). Frequently enough, people ask if my story is true. Nothing I write is 100% fact, including this essay. Nor is anything I write total fiction.

It may be my best accurate memory. Factual journalism is challenging even for the best writers. If you’re as hung up on this as I am, try reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields. Is exaggeration either fact or fiction?

I tell stories with beginnings, middles, and (the most difficult part) ends. My dreams are often related to a reality of my past. They’re not stories because they have only the middle: no backstory or once upon a time concept.

My dreams lack beginnings and transitions. They never end. I wake up or move on to another. There is no natural, spontaneous, or contrived ending. There is no moral lesson. Now, about the bible.

The point of the bible is that God inspired humans to write it. However, I am unconvinced of the biblical cannons being inspired since I believe there is nothing to do the inspiring.

For the sake of agreement, we all pretty much think the books of the bible are real and were written by people. They were also re-written, translated and retranslated, interpreted by and added-to by people other than the original, allegedly divinely inspired, authors. It all continues to happen even to this day. Yet, with all this effort, there is not even one original biblical document to read in any language.

So, which is it? Facts inspired by the divine or a bunch of nonsense and lies. While for many the answer is moot, I have never cared much. Did someone kill others with a jawbone? Did it rain for a long time causing floods? Were there wars and sieges? Did people cut off male foreskins? Were people crucified or decapitated? Was stuff copied from older stuff? Was there nothing and then six days later, everything? Did a bunch of slaves say fuck it and just leave followed by a bunch of morons who drowned? Maybe so. So what? Shit happens.

Even when I was a practicing Christian and teacher of the bible, it’s fact or fiction never mattered to me. I failed as a thumper. For me, the bible has always been a book of books about (and of) religion. But they are far from the only books of religion handed down through history.

So are these: The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys (Bahá’i); The Tipitaka (Buddhism); The Vedas and the Upanishads (Hinduism); The Quaran and the Hadiths (Islam); The Agamas (Jainism); The Tanakh and the Talmud (Judaism); The Kojiki (Shintoism); The Dao De Jing (Taoism); The Book Of Shadows (Wicca); and The Avesta (Zoroastrianism).

Omar Khayyam wrote, A hair divides what is false and true. People can call it whatever they wish. I speak for myself. For me, along with the Bible, all the above are books of religion. Each carry equal weight but have more meaning to that religious group, fact or fiction.

No god, master, translation, interpretation, inspiration, or conflagration required.

Bill

 

Who Ya Gunna Call?

I cannot remember the last time I bought a cake for a social event. If I did find myself in the market for a commercially made cake for an LGBTQ+ friendly event, I would probably ask around. Why would I bother with a bakery that I know will refuse my business for any reason, much less a religious one? Litigation is not my gig.

People are going to want to eat this thing. I need someone I can trust. I’m not saying that anyone would poison the cake, but people have been viciously beaten or murdered for being gay or black, atheist, Jewish, trans, or even a friend or ally of such people. Why risk it? I would be responsible.

As I’ve read about litigation over such things, I wondered how religious beliefs would work when more critical things are in question: health care, for example.

I noticed that South Carolina recently passed a law allowing medical personnel to refuse providing healthcare based on their conscience (faith, religion, beliefs, morals). This law amends existing legal code. State and federal laws already provide such protection. No doctor can be forced to do what they don’t agree with, except in an emergency.

Personally, regarding me, I don’t want medical staff doing anything they object to, are not skilled at or familiar with. I don’t want to be their first case—a guinea pig. I prefer no students, interns, or even residents practice on me, based on past experiences. I should have the right to decline treatment by students, but that is another argument.

Over the years, I have been hospitalized several times, I’ve had surgery and procedures where I have been helpless and/or unconscious. On a few of those occasions, I met the doctor and the rest of the surgical/procedure team for the first and last time in the OR/Lab.

I was able to glean some things about these people. Sometimes I knew one, but never all. Of those I knew, I could guess that maybe their native language was not English. I could also guess about gender/sex, but little more. I knew nothing of their religious or moral beliefs. It was a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. No doctor or nurse ever clearly prayed in my presence. That might be bad for business.

In one case, I met with the head of cardiology. As part of the discussion, he asked what I wanted them to do, if the pending procedure went south. I verbally approved extreme measures to keep me alive (unnecessary as it went well). He was not my attending physician/surgeon, but no one else asked me that question. I felt that if I had said, “No extreme measures. Let me die.” He would have made the note and been okay with that. I knew nothing about his moral or spiritual beliefs, nor the policy of the hospital regarding such issues.

Except for interns and residents, I expect medical professionals to know what they are doing. I hope they had good training, and I hope we get along in our provider-patient relationship.

But I wonder how often doctors are forced to perform non-emergency procedures their religion or morality prevents. Why are existing laws insufficient? Is this SC law political grandstanding and a waste of time and money? I don’t know. I live in Texas, so I also don’t care. But I did ponder some things.

I can’t say for other countries because I don’t know. But I’ve noticed that medical facilities/organizations, doctors, other medical professionals, and insurance companies always seem to get their way in the USA. I know there are such things as various patient rights, but what are they and what are the consequences of non-compliance?

I would like to believe that hospitals and doctors are dedicated to keeping everyone alive and healthy. I want to think that at least the doctors, if not the entire medical staff, will apply the best medical science to treatment. If a facility or doctor will place religion before my health and welfare, I want to know up front. Must I ask such questions?

Happy St-Jean-Baptiste Day to all my friends in Quebec,

Bill

If you really want to get into this topic, HERE is a JAMA study on people considering religion in selecting medical care (Guess what? Care quality matters more than religion).

And THIS is a list of traditional religious guidelines regarding healthcare (rabbit hole warning).

Let’s Talk. Let’s Not.

First, two quotations.

“There’s simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.” ~ Daniel Dennett

“Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere,” (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand) ~ Baruch Spinoza

My point

People talk about whether a god exists and what they do and do not believe. They may debate the efficacy of prayer or correctness of a religion or religious practice. It happens. Peaceful argument can be done. Probably no one will change their mind, but maybe some understanding will come from hearing another’s point of view. Ideally, if that outcome ended every such discussion, what a fine thing it would be (sans argumentum ad hominem).

Even experts in debating issues of a god or religion have their moments of anger (i.e., Chopra in this blog last week). It does not take me long to let someone know that I do not believe what they do. I wish they wouldn’t ask me why not. That is often when the trouble starts.

However, I am willing to ask why people believe as they do. Since most believers accepted what they were told as the truth, I understand that reasoning. But that is seldom the response we get. It is not like they saw a waterfall or read the gospel of John and suddenly believed. Belief in a god is taught. All religion is learned behavior.

I decided on my own that I do not believe any gods exist. To be fair, at this point, I’m not sure that I could believe. No one ever told me there is no god or convinced me or won the god/no god argument. There is no proof and never will be.

What are the chances that a believer had a real moment of enlightenment like Saint Paul? Has anyone decided some god must exist because they had an epiphany? Often enough, scripture is their reasoning, but I bet they were already believers, if they ever read scripture at all.

Ultimately, I am willing to discuss

I don’t have a burning desire to have that talk, but I will if asked. However, I am more in Dennett’s court than Spinoza’s. The odds are that I will manage to piss them off, rock their boat, or hurt their feelings (not my goal); and subsequently I will be informed of my still pending eternity of spiritual pain and suffering because Oden is pissed that I seriously doubt his ultimate reality.

But I kind of get it

Truthfully though, it’s more likely that an agnostic or atheist will try to help me understand, but none of them has ever threatened me with eternal damnation. In fact, the worst outcome in arguments with agnostics or atheists is usually that we disagree on just how the hair splits.

I think I understand why people believe in a god. It’s usually several reasons. In no case is it ever because they asked for and were given proof. I even understand why most people cherry pick religious beliefs and scripture. It is not only what they are taught and have read. Belief in a god and the practice of a religion reflects how they want life to be, how their life-long sacrifice of no unmarried sex and meatless pizza on Fridays is juxtaposed with when you’re dead, you are just that. Nevermore. Nothing more.

Bill

I like this question. I also like ‘what do you want’ and ‘how do you want things to be.’

This youtube from “The Atheist Experience” is almost 30 minutes long. But watching any part of it makes the point and is a good example how hard it is to keep everyone calm, aware, and listening during the discussion. You may want to try a few minutes. Both sides have to work.

 

Woo-woo turns me off

When I say woo-woo, I know it is pejorative. Since I am not trying to make any situation worse, maybe I shouldn’t use the term. Yet, calling something woo-woo gets my opinion across immediately and somewhat humorously (me thinks).

For example, most Catholics believe speaking in tongues and playing with poisonous snakes is woo-woo. Protestants think transubstantiation is woo-woo. To be fair, so do most Catholics these days. But for me, it’s all mystical nonsense and unevidenced claims: woo-woo.

I’ve seen Deepak Chopra lose his shit when the term was used during a discussion/debate with atheists. (Click here to watch the youtube—it’s fun.) His demonstrative demeanor and insistence on his correctness were telling of his deeper persona.

It is in the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Woo-woo means something is “dubiously or outlandishly mystical, supernatural, or unscientific.”

In bar or locker-room talk, I would normally say bullshit. While that is too strong, it also makes my point. I’m not trying to be a polite member of society when I say woo-woo. I am unsarcastically letting society know that I am skeptical but aware.

For years I wrote what are called morning pages (MP). I like them and I agree with Julia Cameron that they are therapeutic, but not therapy. I think they are also fun, considering it’s a morning thing. I don’t accept claims for MPs being mystical or supernatural. I’ve stopped writing them, but I want to begin writing MPs again.

According to Julia’s web page, “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness (SoC) writing, done first thing in the morning.”

She goes on, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing.’ They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” (juliacameronlive.com)

All good. I recommend, but.

That kind of SoC involves a lot of letting go and much trust. It is not easy, but doable. I have a stack of notebooks full of morning pages writing. My problem is that I do better when I am more emotional, which can happen any time of day. But mornings are what they are. MPs are (for me) not about politics or religion. They are about me, people, and the things closest to me.

But then here comes the word that makes me step back: spirituality. I am good with discussion of the human spirit. I am not okay with invoking woo-woo. I am not okay with others trying to make spiritual things part of my life even if it is part of theirs.

If they want to believe it, fine. If they want me to accept it, they need to prove it is reality. That does not stop them from using spirits or the forces of woo to explain even scientifically explainable phenomena.

By the way, these woo-woo promoting people make a ton of money selling books, doing personal appearances, and on the lecture circuit. They are promising something. Right? Like a religion? Often, their claims are outlandish (more woo-woo).

All we need to do is believe them.

Bill

You Don’t Say!

Over many years during which I thought religion had some value, I tried several Christian denominations, even to the point of being one of the Catholics attending that denomination/church. Eventually, each church provided some revelation that persuaded me to walk away. I regret none of that, and I learned much from the experiences.

My wife was always my partner in these endeavors. One condition for us to give a church a try was that it had to be flexible enough to fit our thinking. These included Episcopalian, Methodist, First Christian, and other welcoming groups. Most were “main line” Protestant.

Some denominations were not going to see us except as walk-ons at weddings, funerals, or other events related to friends or family. LDS and J-Witnesses (I still consider these cults) were not ever even possible considerations. Other fundamentalist bible thumping groups were likewise considered and dropped almost immediately. These would include denominations like Church of Christ, Pentecostal (Holy Rollers), Evangelicals, most independent non-denominational (whatever that is) types, and of course, good old Southern Baptist (home of the hypocrite).

If drinking beer, dancing, and mixed sex swimming were considered sinful, that group was dismissed in a New York minute. Ironically, the only church in which I ever spoke from the pulpit was Southern Baptist. As the minister and I stood at the exit, worshippers filed out shaking our hands. They also kept giving me money. When I turned the cash over to the real preacher he said, “You may have missed your calling, Bill.”

Lately, the Southern Baptists have been kind enough to give me a reason to blog about them. And guess what? It involves sexual misconduct and a high-level coverup. Well, I tell you what! I’ll just swan. Bless their (formerly racist?) little hearts. Read all about it HERE.

Apparently, the once saved, always saved, and largest single Protestant denomination in the U.S., comprising one-tenth of American Protestants, and the world’s largest Baptist denomination, has been taking lessons from the Catholic bishops on how to turn a difficult and bad situation into a major scandal perturbing and embarrassing all 14.1 million of its faithful.

While I am not exclusively in the business of either attacking or defending religion’s hypocrites, anyone who thinks sexual misconduct only lies with pedophiliac Catholic priests and pompous bishops is woefully wrong.

Church and religion are the ideal turf for sexual crimes because, well, as everyone knows, you can trust a Christian much more than an atheist, right? And then there is God, who will take care of it all, right?

I keep quoting Hitch. “Religion poisons everything.”

Have a wonderful June. (Pride Month, Nat’l PTSD Awareness Month, International Mud Month; and today [3 June] is National Repeat Day.)

Bill