Tuesday, January 9, 2007
I'm just kidding, I'm not actually having a conversation.
So our Readership (her name is Michelle) brought it to my attention today that we haven't updated our blog in awhile. Which is true, I guess. This blog ostensibly deals with atheism and atheism related issues, but really, that quickly degenerates into a Liberal and a Conservative going 'Wauuugh nobody trusts usssss!' As great a blog as that would be, it's time for us to diversify.
Yes, you heard me right: Left Atheist Right Atheist is no longer a religion only blog. It now deals with the opinions of a nonreligious Conservative and a nonreligious Liberal on world events, so many of which are rooted in or complicated by religious faith. So then! Let's get started, shall we?
Oh Snap! It's Iraq Time!
So today President Bush made an announcement: He's sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq with no specific timetable for their withdrawal.
Only, it wasn't so much him that made the announcement as it was a chairman on the Senate Armed Services Committee, a gentleman by the name of Carl Levin. And he didn't even really announce it so much as he said he expects President Bush to make the announcement tomorrow.
For the purposes of the blog, we'll trust Carl Levin and assume that this is all the real deal.
I hate the War in Iraq, and I hate the fat, greedy, stupid, prejudiced men who blindly ignored all reason and got it started. Oh, and we can't forget the women, either (Condoleeza gets so pissy when she's left out, I swear). The entire war is a disgrace to our country and a reckless endangerment of our soldiers, and don't even get me started on what it's done to Iraq. Yes, we've deposed a ruthless dictator, but we've also deposed Law and Order.
That being said, I approve of the decision to send 20,000 more troops there. Woah, that's mind blowingly ker-azy, isn't it?
There's a saying, 'Go big or go home'. Interestingly enough, those are also our present options: Reinforce our troops and finish the job (Go big), or pack it in and leave it to the Iraqi government (Go home). We've had these choices for couple of years now - just the two of them, mind you - and so far the Bush Administration has been living by its own credo, 'Go big or go home or don't do anything at all, and fuck over the environment and gay rights while you're at it'. And yes, you damn bet they picked the third option, much to the consternation of trees, gay people, and the folks who have to contend with 115 degree weather and roadside bombs on a daily basis (the military).
We have about 132,000 troops in Iraq right now, which is not enough. Why do I, an 18 year old with no military experience, say that 132,000 isn't enough? I say that because we can't even control Baghdad, which is one of the strongest concentrations of the US forces in Iraq. If 132,000 troops are in the country and we can't even control the city where we're keeping our central base of operations, how the hell are we supposed to win? We're not doing anything especially beneficial when we can't even keep the streets safe at night. Yes, it's wonderful that we're building schools. Yes, it's wonderful that Saddam is out of power. But if you gave somebody a choice between a free, state of the art school and not having to contend with daily carbombings killing dozens (if not hundreds) of people, I'm pretty sure they're going to go with the latter option!
Long story short: We need the 20,000 extra troops so we can make Iraq secure. That way our troops are safer (larger force), the Iraqis are safer (more patrols), and we might actually make some progress (more boots on the ground gets things done faster). Kudos to the Bush Administration for making the decision. May they never be forgiven for taking so long to do it.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Religious Person: Read Revalations, it'll explain it all to you.
Me: Or not.
Religious Person: What, you don't read the bible?
Religious Person: Are you an -- athiest???
Religious Person: I don't like you.
lol, does this seem right to anybody else? Anybody? The amount of religious tolerance exuding from this particular individual was akin to the amount of milk you could milk from a rock. Nadda.
I too have been invited to multiple religious gatherings, but unlike Truman I attended many of them. You see, I was raised very religious. I was baptised and attended a private christian school up through 4th grade. I never really attended church regularly, but I did some youth group things as a kid. I was reluctant to give up religions because I thought people would look down on me or that I'd upset people that were really religious, but religion began to make less and less sense to me, so I ditched it for good. This explains why I actually attended soem of these religious functions, because I was still clinging to religion. I can tell you, Truman, you were right when you said you'd probably feel awkward. It was awkward. It's really awkward when your family still wants to go to church every once in a while and forces you into attendance. Just sitting there, not believing anything you're hearing.
This leads me to a quote that I found the other day that, I believe, is a perfect summation of why I am an atheist. I don't mean to constantly use outside sources in my posts instead of voicing my own opinion, it's just that these sources fit. Fit really really well.
Here is how I view atheism:
"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
It makes sense, how couldn't it? Ponder it. . .
Err, I mean, I don't believe in hell, but... Yeah, I agree with the article itself.
Oregon (the lovely state in which Snively and I live) is the second most atheistic in the US - Washington is first - with 24% of the population referring to themselves as 'non religious'. Of course, non religious is a tough term to nail down, because that can include Secular Humanists, Jedi, and agnostics. Watch your back when dealing with agnostics - they're slippery ones. The Evil Agnostic Conspiracy is behind every major war of the past 200 years, and also Desert Storm. Read my lips: Slippery.
Look, I digress. The point is, I live in a relatively atheist friendly environment. Don't let the LA Times guy give you the impression that it's a constant fight for my life out here - a goodly percentage of my friends are non religious, and my religious friends are incredibly respectful of my choices. Sure, people have tried to muscle me into Christian youth group attendence in the past, but by and large they aren't my friends anymore.
This isn't the case everywhere else, of course. Antisemitism is by now socially unacceptable to the point that it was used as a constant testament to Borat's backwards thinking ways in his movie of the same name. But while people agree that it's wrong to judge people based on their religion, they'll turn right around and judge atheists based on their lack thereof. A few years ago, a Right Christian (not the Right Christian of my previous post) tried to convince me to come to her Youth Group meeting.
Right Christian: You should come to Youth Group tonight!
Left Atheist: Thanks, but... No thanks. I'm an atheist, you see.
Right Christian: Oh... Well, you should still come!
Left Atheist: I'd really rather not. Church functions make me feel sort of uncomfortable.
Right Christian: So you're not open to new opinions?
Left Jew: I'd really rather not. Bacon and Shellfish conventions make me feel sort of uncomfortable.
Right Christian: Oh, well... Could you at least give me a loan? Or give me the name of a good plastic surgeon? I mean, you'd have to know one, with your huge Jewish nose and all...
Because atheists aren't stoked about accepting Jesus doesn't make us close minded or stubborn, it makes us devoted to our theological path. Christian readers: Would you like to come to an American Atheists Society meeting? Everything we're going to talk about there is contrary to what you believe. What, you don't want to come? Close minded, much?
I'm all over the board here. Yes, I do agree with what the LA Times article says: Atheists are stereotyped as bad people. It's untrue to say that we are bad people. To judge us based on this is making the same mistake that Borat does when he says the Jews are out to get us all, or the KKK does when they say Catholics are evil. The only time that making religious judgements about people is valid is when you're talking about those filthy agnostics.
Lee Harvey Oswald? Yeah, he was a closet agnostic. I'm telling you - SLIPPERY.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term "atheism" has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.
Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.
Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was "not at all to be tolerated" because, he said, "promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist."
That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims "never to doubt" the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.
Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.
1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.
On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.
2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise topersonality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
3) Atheism is dogmatic.
Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity's needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn't have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.
No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or "creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself.
The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.
5) Atheism has no connection to science.
Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.
6) Atheists are arrogant.
When scientists don't know something — like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.
7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.
There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.
There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.
8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.
Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.
From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.
9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.
Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.
In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?
10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.
If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.
We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.
So, Truman, what do you think? Any opinion???
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Good call Truman, a nice little topic to start with. I agree with Truman, I celebrate Christmas. I'm not sure I agree with some of the reasoning behind why Truman celebrates Christmas though. It seems kind of a stretch that Truman would be celebrating the birth of a great guy named Jesus if he didn't believe Jesus was god. We'll just chalk that particular paragraph of Truman's entry up to "Truman was looking for any and all ways to defend his celebration of Christmas". Here's how I defend my choosing to celebrate Christmas as an Atheist.I don't believe in god. I want to celebrate a holiday. I will. That's the joy of not having a religion! If I were Jewish, celebrating Christmas would be a no-no. Same if I were Muslim. By not being tied down to a religion, I can celebrate the holidays of any religion I choose! Granted, I will never be deep and emotional about the "true meaning" of any said holiday, but when there is hot cocoa, presents, trees, shiny things, and good music, I choose to participate. How many families truly treat Christmas as a celebration of Christ? Not mine. . . and I'm the only atheist in my family.
What if Christmas really were a celebration of Christ's birth? What if every family spent Christmas eve praying and reading the bible and discussing Mary and Joseph's trip through Bethlehem? Would I celebrate Christmas? No. I'd remove myself from the festivities and go occupy myself some other way. Nowadays we don't see this kind of religious devotion on Christmas, so I celebrate it. Ever tried to swim up river? That's like being an atheist. Ever tried to swim up river while being attacked by birds? That's like trying to not celebrate Christmas.
Rambling aside, I pick my battles. Why should I fight against cookies and Santa for fear of being misinterpreted as a Christian when in reality, Jesus doesn't play a huge role in Christmas anymore?
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Despite not having any religious faith, I do celebrate Christmas. And, according to a hardcore conservative Christian (I guess you could call her Right Christian, but that's sort of a blanket statement for a lot of the church), I'm a bad atheist because of it. Confused? Well, frankly, so am I. The conversation went something like this:
Right Christian: What, you celebrate Christmas?
Left Atheist: Yeah.
Right Christian: But... You're an atheist!
Left Atheist: That doesn't mean I can't celebrate Christmas.
Right Christian: But Christmas is a Christian holiday!
Left Atheist: Thanks for telling me, I never would've figured that out on my own, what with the name and all.
Right Christian: You're an atheist but you celebrate a Christian holiday... You're a bad atheist! BAD ATHEIST!
[She continues to chant this at me until I pull out my lightsaber and teach her why she should never mess with the person who doesn't have to turn the other cheek]
I have a message for Christians: Don't be so damn greedy. There's enough Christmas for all of us. Why can't we share it? Don't get all up in my nontheistic Kool-Aid about me celebrating Christmas - what does it matter to you? It's not like there's a set quota of Christmas laid out every year, and that my celebrating it is depriving some more deserving Christian family of their share.
Furthermore, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ (even though, yes, apparently Christ was born sometime in the Spring, but I don't see anybody rushing to change the holiday - we'd have to rewrite all the Christmas songs! "Walkin' in a Spring Wonderland"? That's stupid! The words don't even line up with the tune of the original song! And in A Christmas Story it'd be too warm out for the kid to get his tongue stuck to the pole, and... Oh, man, let's just keep Christmas in late December, okay? We owe pop culture that much.). Maybe I don't speak for all atheists here, but I certainly believe that Christ did exist. Frankly, I think Christ was a pretty cool guy, if what I know of his teachings is correct. I don't think he was the son of God, and I'm not exactly crazy about the stuff that his followers have done in his name over the past 2000 years, but that's not what Christmas is about, is it? Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ, something that I believe happened, albeit not on exactly that day. Am I not allowed to celebrate the birth of a truly advanced person simply because I'm not a follower of the religion he went on to create?
Well, actually, I can celebrate pretty much whatever I want. United States, y'see. Freedom of Religion. Woohoo!
But then you may ask, "Say Truman, why don't you celebrate May 4th, Audrey Hepburn's birthday? You do love Audrey Hepburn. You think she was a model of beauty, grace, and conduct." Well, there's two reasons for that. The first is that I'd look damn silly prancing around in Spring saying "Merry Audreymas!" to everyone - I mean, hell, if I'm going to do that, why not just start celebrating Christmas in Spring, and we've already been over why that's a bad idea! The second reason, much more pertinent than the first, is that Christmas is a day of love and cheer throughout the western world. For one day, friends and family meet and share in the collective happiness of December 25th. Gifts are exchanged, food is consumed, and people get a chance to see other people they don't see very often and remember just why they love those people so much in the first place. Who are you, Right Christian, to judge me a Bad Atheist for wanting to take part in this daylong festival of love and good cheer?
People say that Christmas has become too commercialized, and to an extent I guess it has. Go to a department store today. Yeah, you'll get it. Critics claim that because there's so much buying and selling going on, people are forgetting the true meaning of Christmas - Christ and Mary and the Three Wise men, etc. I think what these critics are missing is that while there's a lot of buying and selling at Christmas, there's also a nearly equal amount of giving and receiving. Those gifts are being bought by people as tokens of affection for other people. I bought an apron and a spatula for my girlfriend (relax, she wanted them, I'm not trying to send some message about women and the cult of domesticity), and when she opened the box (early - she talked me into it) and saw what I'd bought her, we had one hell of a Christmas moment. I knew she loved cooking, so I bought her things that would help her do what she loved to do. Also, she knows that I love cookies, so I'm also enabling her to reward me with a cornucopia of delicacies. Score!
What I'm getting at is that Christmas is so much bigger than any one religion. Christmas has become a less a time of Christian celebration and more a time of personal celebration. We unearth fond memories around the dinner table, we watch the same movies that hold the same significance time after time, we're more forgiving, we're more charitable, we're less vengeful, we're less greedy. Christmas started out as a strictly Christian holiday, but now I think that trying to pigeonhole it as a day reserved exclusively for people of one religion is contrary to what the holiday is actually about. Christmas is a day for all of us to reunite with our loved ones, no matter what we believe. Many people include church services and nativity plays in their celebration of the day, just as many others don't. The love and cheer is still there, no matter how the celebration goes.
Right Christian continued to tell me I was a bad atheist, so I told her "Judge not, lest ye be judged." She just pointed and shouted "BAD ATHEIST! BAD ATHEIST!" So right now, I could judge the stuffing out of her and have the Bible on my side the whole time.
But it's Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Right Christian.