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

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.

When was the last time you prayed?

About a year ago a midwestern friend asked people to pray for rain. I thought, if god exists he should make it rain there. It did! In fact, I think they’re having problems with floods now. Apparently, sometimes folks need to tell him when to stop. I also tend to pray when I’m upset. I’ve invoked deities with things like god damn it (or dad gum it), Jesus Christ (or the family version of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph), Oh, God!, good god (or good grief), god help you, god only knows, bless her (or his) heart, and so on.

My last in earnest prayer was reciting part of Mark 9:24, I believe, help my unbelief, which is an alleged quote said by a father during a scene in which Jesus performed an exorcism on the man’s son. That prayer was eight or nine years ago as I was dealing with doubts about religion and god.

Roughly five years later I openly embraced my own atheism. My only prayers since might be called sarcastic blasphemy by some. I do not seriously pray. I would not pray if I ever came to believe in some god. I do not say amen after someone else prays, but I do (for now) sit or stand quietly while they pray or say some form of grace or meal blessing. I’m not sure how much longer I will cooperate with the holding of hands since I see that as me participating in the act of prayer.

What about people who believe in gods, especially the Abrahamic one, and never pray? Are they theists, deists, or practical atheists, as the Catholic church claims?

I have always thought that what people do matters most. I have never bought into the once saved, always saved; or what people believe matters more than what they do. In my mind, it fits well into what we do matters more than what we say.

I can’t recall ever being told that it is a sin to not ever pray. Is it wrong to never physically and verbally acknowledge a god, even if you do believe in one or more?

I no longer pray because I am mostly convinced (97.7%, if you need a degree) that no gods exist, and if they did, prayer would still be nonsense. When I prayed it was because it was a big part of the religion I practiced, not because I thought it was working. I prayed for dead people to be in heaven and I prayed for sick and dying people to recover. The sick got well, the dying died anyway.

Of the 80 or 90 percent of people who claim to believe in some sort of deity or woo-woo, how many never pray, never go to church, never practice a religion, and never dance naked around the fire during a full, or new moon?

Bill

What is Reality?

I forget the exact words of my friend’s conversation with me. It must have been after one of her trips to Austin for a Deepak Chopra thingy. At the time she was New Age and I was trying to be a practicing Roman Catholic. She did not criticize my religion, but I am sure she thought it wrong (as did evangelicals, Lutherans, and the anti-organized religion crowd, and me today). Something she said led me to a question.

I asked, What about reality? She said, don’t be negative and depressing. I was surprised by her dim view of what she considered reality. Indeed, she’d had a shitty life for the most part, being married to a hopeless misogynistic alcoholic. But my friend’s negative view of reality and her refusal to consider it still troubles me after ten years. Hers was not a unique way to see the world.

Many people deliberately shun all forms of reality. And in my opinion, the same goes for human nature and truth. That was not the only time she assumed she knew my thoughts and motives. The discussion of reality stopped.

Some years prior to that, a professional therapist looked at me and said, “We each have our own reality.” I understood her comment as a mental health professional, considering how individual psychological perspective effects behavior. While I may have bought it at the time, I was skeptical then and don’t agree with her now. Schizophrenics and hypochondriacs may think they live in their own reality, but that reality is part of the illness. It is not part of physical reality, except to them. It is not true (voices or illnesses).

What is imagined does not necessarily exist, although the discussion goes on and on. Because hallucination is a real thing does not mean what is imagined physically exists.

Apparently, reality in the sense of the real physical world is not as simple as many of us see it. However, most of us only deal with our immediate surroundings—the reality we live within. The reality we can sense.

Few of us are philosophers or physicists in the professional or technical sense. Most of us claim to have some form of belief in a god/higher power/supreme being, or some form of yaddy yadda woo-woo, whatever. That belief often goes beyond the point of I think god is real to there is a god. It’s okay to believe (own reality) whatever, but belief or faith does not make it real.

Said belief is either fun, gets one laid, or makes one superior to others. Equality is wonderful. But we seem to want to feel superior to others and to have them acknowledge our better-than-you-ness. The accoutrements of beliefs and corresponding religion make for problems which too many believers are in denial of or blind to (but not all).

In order to solidify objections, we want to engage in the demonizing of others. This is done at every level from the presidency (not just this one) and the popes and virtually all religious leadership, down to the most ordinary of people, some not even practitioners of any religion.

Reality is real stuff. Real people, places, and things. It is not an idea, not a may-or-might be, or any possibility. Reality is what is. You can see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, and hear some of it. If you either want to, or for some reason must, believe something else: fine. It’s not real.

Bill

 

I Don’t Know

If my grandson were to ask me if I believe in God, what answer should I give? My choices would be: yes, no, maybe, or I plead the Fifth (I refuse to answer on the grounds that if I tell you, it might be life-changing for both of us). He has not asked, and I have not asked him what he thinks. If he would simply ask me if there is a god, I could say I don’t know.

If my father had ever asked me if I believed in God, I would have said yes. Today, that would be a lie, but it would still be my answer. One does not have deep metaphysical discussions with an Archie Bunker type, especially an angry one. I try to choose my battles carefully. I would probably tell my mother the truth, well…maybe, but I don’t know if I would. More on her another time.

I cannot recall the last time anyone asked me if I believed in God. Most people seem to assume I do, and I did used to act as though I did. I only recall one time when someone asked me if I was atheist. It took me two days to answer. While I knew what I was, I felt the need to ponder my response. I had to decide if I wanted to admit it to anyone (especially to me). Prior to that, I had only implied it to one workmate, but I disguised my comments as dismissals of religion. The elephant in the room (belief in a god) wasn’t questioned. I think he assumed I did not believe because of what he said about his father, a long time Mormon convert who never saw the light, vis-à-vis my statements.

When atheists lie about it, it’s euphemistically referred to as being in the closet. It is not telling the truth, so it’s lying. Millions of people all around the world do it every day for good reasons. Most of those reasons are more defensive than deceptive, but often are not without regret and guilt.

This is not about truth and lies. It’s about role playing for your own good and the good of others. I think it’s better to be out of the closet because the cognitive dissonance (guilt) associated with trying to live a dishonest life is troubling and wearing. It feels better, but there is almost always some price to pay for that kind of honesty.

In a scene from the movie The Big Sick (a good, dramatic but light romantic comedy from 2017) where the main male character, Kumail, (finally) confronts his Pakistani parent’s religion, culture, and traditions; his father, a Muslim, asks him “Do you not believe in Allah?” To which Kumail answers, I don’t know what I believe. I have not prayed in years. I don’t know what I believe. I find that answer courageous, and I see his father’s response as controlled and reasonable. (I could not find a clip of the scene.)

Movie character or not (it’s based upon a true-life story), my thought was, not prayed in years and confused beliefs, He’s atheist. Just because he will not say it, that doesn’t mean it’s not the case, right?

Saying I don’t know has to do with knowledge. Agnosticism does also. It’s simply saying I don’t know or I’m uncertain. In a way, it’s pleading the 5th without saying what one believes. Either you believe something, or you don’t. Who knows? Nobody!

It’s also why I don’t know should be an acceptable answer. I like to say there are no gods, but I would not say I know there are no gods. Yet, the latter is what many people think I said. It is simply what I think or believe to be the case, based on the lack of evidence. Few would ask why I doubt any god’s existence. But they would challenge me to prove the negative.

There are times when I am asked questions, and I pause before I answer, often for so long that the questioner begins to lose patience with me. I always want to be sure I can give my best answer. Well, not exactly always.

Sometimes, if I have been sipping some of nature’s finer spirits, I will answer any question immediately, with confidence and authority. One could correctly say I am full of shit, but it’s alcohol. Sober, I am more likely to say I don’t know.

One other answer I like to use either sober (or perhaps while wondering what kind of THC that was) is: I don’t care. That is truly my favorite, although I find ways to dress it up at times.

Bill

Do We Choose What We Believe?

What is human belief? What are we claiming when we claim to believe something, or to disbelieve or doubt something? Is belief a yes or no, black or white state of mind, or a maybe/maybe not (grayscale) thing?

When asked to list all the things we do (or do not) believe, can we? And do we tell the truth? Do we know the truth? How does faith factor into the discussions of belief (also what of credence, credit, and opinion)? If you want the Merriam-Webster dictionary explanation, it’s here.

I think we often tend to treat belief as a black-and-white state of mind (or habit) when what we really mean is faith. But what is faith? According to the same dictionary, belief may not imply certitude, but faith almost always does. Asking someone why they believe in a god seems to always come down to faith.

While god and religion are the favorite topics when belief and faith are discussed, they are not the best topics for two reasons. One is that they don’t really matter much. The other is that because of the perturbation or influence religion places on people’s belief or faith that god exists, or that one religion is right and others not (or less so), unbiased discussion is virtually impossible. Yet, while I am willing to have that discussion, in this piece I do not focus on god or religion, despite the intended skeptical nature of this blog site.

I read a PEW research finding that more than 75% of the people in Texas are certain (belief or faith) that a god exists. That is millions. If so, are some willing to consider another option openly and talk about it? Perhaps. But my experience would cause me to say few.

Weather

I planned to walk outdoors Wednesday morning. My online weather forecast indicated 100% chance of rain. The on-line radar supported that high probability, but it was not raining. Furthermore, we did have significant thunder and lightning associated with the rain over the previous days.

Believing it might rain, I walked indoors because the evidence I had (and trusted) gave me a high degree of certainty that being outside might not be safe. It did rain with all the light and sound effects. However, even with such a forecast, it might not have rained.

If it were a 30% probability, I would risk it because it rarely rains when probability is that low. I would have evidence which I could believe. Could I have chosen to believe that it would not rain? Maybe.

Movies and Books

Let’s try a movie: King Kong. If someone offered to pay me $10,000, plus travel and expenses, to go to the top of the Empire State Building and stand there and believe that the scene of Kong knocking down biplanes was true, I could not believe it was true. I could lie and take the money. But I could not make myself have faith and belief that it was true. Is the movie evidence?

Yet, here is proof in black and white. If I can believe whatever I choose to believe, how do I make myself believe this?

Unusual Sightings and Eye Witness Accounts

If someone said they had seen bigfoot, I would believe them, but I do not believe that the bigfoot creature exists. I don’t know what they saw. Maybe it was bigfoot, and my skepticism is asking too much. I have also seen photos of bigfoot (poor ones), but is that proof? I’ve seen photos of flying saucers too, but I don’t believe them to be real. Things we see are not always reliable (eye witnesses in court, for example, are notoriously wrong).

Other Reports of Things Happening (if it was a snake, it would have bitten me)

I like to walk on wilderness trails near where I live. I have seen few snakes, and no rattlesnakes. I have read reports of sightings and even of people being bitten on the same trails I walk. I believe enough to be watchful, and I am convinced that the stories of sightings and bites are both plausible and real. Am I choosing to believe in snakes but not bigfoot? Or is the evidence different? I have seen rattlesnakes in captivity and the wild. The only bigfoot I saw was in costume.

Why do we believe things?

This is a challenging and fun topic. My position for now is that we do not necessarily choose what we believe. We are influenced by many environmental and, perhaps, genetic factors. Even with evidence, we may not alter our beliefs. I wrote about this human phenomenon during my A to Z Challenge postings. Why do some of us never alter our beliefs despite clear evidence to the contrary? Is it choice? Or something else?

As children many of us believed things regardless of what adults told us (ghosts, monsters, etc.). At some point, most of us gave up many of those beliefs. Did we make a choice or was there insufficient evidence to continue maintaining the beliefs?

Believe whatever you like. You have that right. Everyone else has the right to disagree.

Shalom,

Bill

 

A to Z Challenge: Zoro’s Zion Zealots (Z)

Zealots (religious zeal) – are uncompromising fanatics in pursuit of their religious or political ideals. They are diehard activists, maniacs, ultra-extreme nuts. Not moderates. Members of an ancient Jewish sect aiming at a world Jewish theocracy. Glad we don’t have any religious groups like that today, aren’t you?

Zion and Zionism – Zion is a specific hill in Jerusalem. It’s the place from which God rules the world. Zionism is the belief that God’s covenant with the Jews is linked to Palestine and Jerusalem and that said land is rightfully theirs (Jews). Why would that upset anyone? When I say that religion is responsible for many of the problems in the world, throughout history, and today, this is one example of why. There are no gods, so it’s all bull shit, and people die every day because of it.

Zoroastrianism – is the religion founded by Zoroaster about 3,500 years ago. It reformed ancient Persian polytheism into a one god belief system. However, Zoroastrian is considered dualistic since it has a good god and an evil god. This religion influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, specifically in the concepts of heaven and hell, resurrection of the dead, final judgment, and many other concepts which the Abrahamic followers think they invented. Freddie Mercury’s family faith was the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism

And that concludes the 2019 challenge of the alphabet. Shalom.