Canadian Atheists “Attack”!

You know those bus ads in Britain that say, “There probably is no God”? Well, they are coming to Toronto and at least one evangelical leader is pretty pissed. The Globe and Mail reports the following, quite revealing, quote: 

On the surface, I’m all for free speech. … However, though, these are attack ads,” Dr. McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, said in an interview yesterday.

Well, that’s the problem with surfaces, isn’t it? They’re so… shallow, so… damn superficial

And does it strike anyone else as odd that to suggest something/someone doesn’t exist should be taken as such an afront? Let’s try replacing “God” with some other terms to highlight this curiousty:

Me: Your mother probably doesn’t exist. 
You: Dude, what are you talking about, I just talked to her on the phone like two minutes ago.
Me: Oh, nevermind.

Me: Your car probably doesn’t exist. 
You: What? I don’t even own a car.
Me: Um… yeah, that’s what I meant.

Me: Republicanism probably doesn’t exist.
You: NOOOOOOOO! You bastard! Stop attacking me!!!

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Hate the Tenets, Not the Teneteers

Folks frequently make the following distinction: Respect the religion, but condemn the “bad” things people do for it.

Recently I have spoken out against religion and its tenets of faith for various reasons, among them are terrorism, denying medical care to children, racism (as found in the Christian Identity movement), and missionary work (which, among other things, too-often separates members of the same family into believers and others).

I also sometimes harp on religious beliefs that I see as highly acidic to a cohesive society. I am thinking here, for example, about the doctrine of hell — which I find troubling whether it causes division of not. Let’s say my Christian neighbor wont let his kid play with mine because “that atheist family is going to hell!” Or let’s say that Christian family treats me kindly and neighborly all the while thinking that I, my wife, my child will, eventually, be roasting eternally in torment… I mean, which one is more disturbing?

Then there are the many admonishments in both the Koran and the Bible concerning non-believers — casting them out as evil, unsaved, lost, and damnable…

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Image Credit

I find this whole respect thing to be both unwarranted and a little bit dangerous. A recent article by Johann Hari in The Independent exposes how “the forces of respect” are lining up to erode freedom and to institutionalize prejudice, chauvinism, and certain kinds of violence. The article centers on efforts by some Muslim nations to alter The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 60 years ago declared that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” They claim it is simply not “respectful” to religion. 

And because the UN has bowed to this religious cry of disrespect, the objections have spread. Hari writes:

The Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” -– and Brown was ordered to be silent.

Hari also points out that a quick perusal of last week’s news can give us plenty of good reasons not only to disrespect religious beliefs, but to actively oppose them:

In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah. 

So yeah, I’m pretty much all for not respecting religious beliefs. As many others have claimed, no one has a right not to be offended — I needn’t stop talking because you don’t like what you hear. I will continue to challenge. Here is a nice closing quote from Hari’s article:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him…  I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal. 

If Faith in God to Heal your Child Is not Faith – What Is It?

On a couple of my previous posts, particularly this one, How Religion Does Not Save (about the children of “faith-healing” parents), and this one, “Because I Love Her” Is a Rational and Logical Response, the discussion seems to return to “what really qualifies as faith.”

I defined faith as belief in something without or in spite of evidence.

Once when I was  in conversation with a Catholic missionary discussing this topic, he said his faith coincided with reason and that his religious worldview was more rational than mine as a result. He said that he loved learning about new scientific discoveries because they increased his faith. I asked him a simple question. “Is there any sort of discovery that would result in a decrease of faith?” He looked at me puzzlingly for a moment. Then he replied, “No!” I said, “So your faith only slides one way, whether discoveries are made, not made, and regardless of the results of the discovery — the faith-slider simply goes toward increase?” He agreed. So my question is… is this faith? And if it is, doesn’t this deny any room or role for reason?

Now I am an advocate for recognizing emotion as a source of our knowledge and as a large part of our decision-making faculty (that was the subject of my last post). I think that “evidence” comes in a wide array of flavors (such as intuition or instinct). But again, simply recognizing that we may intuit an aspect of “truth” and then allow that intuition to influence our logic, I do not think that is faith… I call that normal human decision-making. What do you call it?

Why I Love “Loving Wisdom”

Today I begin teaching a new semester of Philosophy 111. As I sat last night contemplating what to talk about, I made these notes… and thought I would share them with you…

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Philosophy is the “love of wisdom.” It comes from the Greek phílos (loving, dear) and sophia (skill, wisdom, knowledge). But when I began to read philosophy, it was not for the love of wisdom. I read from a trivial curiosity or, perhaps, a curiosity of what could be made trivial. It was a desire to know — not to understand — what “thinkers” thought. I was not reading to be taught, not to learn, I wanted only to wield those insights in conversation — to have the appearance of being smart. Of course, if I picked up something useful along the way, so much the better, but I remember that in those days the taste of philosophy wasn’t always pleasant – as you may already know wisdom is not always sweet, and it seldom satisfying. It is sometimes salty, sometimes bitter, sometimes spicy. It can be a mouthful of sand, and sometimes philosophy can taste like nothing at all.

Those were the days of lottery philosophy — hoping for a payoff without a big investment. Then, somehow, through an odd and fortuitous sequence of events, I ended-up a philosophy major in college. It was then I started to look to philosophy for answers. I didn’t expect a fully-formed set of instructions (this was not religion after all), but I hoped for answers that might strengthen my bearings in the world, give me a stable orientation, comfort. I hoped philosophy would teach me what sort of being a human was — and what sort of human being was Tyson Koska. In its accumulated wisdom, I hoped to find a metaphorical armchair, a comfy, fluffy spot to observe the world. But that isn’t what I found. I found a hole.

And the more I studied, the deeper the hole. The more I dug into the details of philosophy, the more it seemed to disconnect itself from the world — it seemed, almost, unwise in its microscopic attention to argumentative detail, to its all-consuming fervor over pinpoints of logic, rock-hard technicalities, and a few random/sandy metaphysical flourishes of thought — fact and feeling, reason and intuition, virtue, conviction, and passion. Wisdom is, if not infinitely deep, impossibly wide. You can get lost in those thoughts, in the dug-out caves of complex ideas, of insights both dirty and depressing… that is, until your spouse or child or parent calls to you from the next room, pulling your head out of that monumental idea and displacing it with the need to make dinner or take out the trash…

But let us say you keep digging, you dig so ridiculously deep and below anything seemingly real that you, at some point, probably unwittingly, pop out the other side. Let us say you dig yourself back into the sunshine. Now that is philosophy. What do you see in this new sun? Well, you see that dinner needs to be made and that the garbage needs taking out — that everything has, if only vanishingly significant, importance — it’s got its place. So too does the moment of your child’s first steps, or your grandmother’s funeral, or the day you fell, or will fall, in love. Everything is quite literally integral to everything. The daily detritus of living, the flashing moments of importance — the menial is lofty and the lofty is menial.

What you take from philosophy is up to you. You can get lost in the details and never emerge, you can disregard those same details as so much mental masturbation — or you can make careful observation and critical thinking a part of your life. What you do with the things you learn can be life-changing in importance. Will you say, “Oh yes, very interesting, that makes sense” and then go on believing whatever it was you believed before? Or will you let the implications of your knowledge become part of a new and expanded worldview?

What I have learned is that philosophy will not make you clever, and it certainly will not give you answers to live by — but it can make you comfortable in a world with so many competing and seemingly conflicting answers. Maybe it’s not the comfy, fluffy armchair I’d hoped for, but it can give you the tools to navigate, not just your intellectual, but your lived-world. As I have come often to reapeat: If life is an ocean, then philosophy is learning to swim.

Ontological Truth of Supernatural Deities Not to Be Decided by Advertising Board, Damn!

Britain’s Ad-Board is apparently dodging their responsibility to create clear and accurate standards on the question of God’s existence. We will not be getting a definitive response on whether the claim that “God probably does not exist” is a factually true or false claim. According to the BBC:

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it would not be further investigating any complaints about the campaign, which was launched on British buses and the London Underground on the 6 January.

Although the watchdog acknowledged the content of the campaign would be at odds with the beliefs of many, it concluded that it was unlikely to mislead or to cause “serious or widespread offence”.

I’d really hoped we could put this whole question behind us — but alas, perhaps someday a better, more concerned, advertising board will take up this important question and settle the problem forever.

How Religion Does Not Save

Quite frequently when I speak out against faith-based thinking or “ways of knowing,” I get the response, “What other people believe is not your business, it doesn’t hurt anyone, why do you care?” Of course the easy response is simply to say “9/11” or point a finger toward Mecca, but the insidious nature of absolute faith infects us at home, just more quietly and behind closed doors.

This New York Times article highlights an example of our own, homespun, religious tragedy:

About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.

That’s death. Can you imagine the thousands of kids who merely suffer — but do not die — as a result of their brainwashed parents’ prayers to an unseen and mysterious God? Not to mention the times, all fired-up on holy ghost and righteousness, they may decide just to whip the devil out of some unruly child:

“Many types of abuses of children are motivated by rigid belief systems,” including severe corporal punishment, said Ms. Swan, a former Christian Scientist whose 16-month-old son, Matthew, died after she postponed taking him to a hospital for treatment of what proved to be meningitis. “We learned the hard way.” 

Yes, it matters what people think. Whether they are chauvinist, racist, or monotheist — I see no harm in challenging other people’s positions. We are free to think what we want, sure — but we are not free to remain unchallenged for it.

Racists on Inauguration Day

I know there is racism, but I guess I thought people were racist in the quiet of their own home, or perhaps in the safety of the like-minded — in a hick bar somewhere, after a couple of beers, where no one but other racist friends were there to hear them.

But no, it seems that people are quite forthcoming and open about their ignorant racism. On wide-open,  public websites such as  Stormfront one can easily find the ugliest forms of  discrimination and hate, all expressed with gleeful stupidity. The following happens to be the first three entries from the first discussion thread I entered (completely at random).

Bonedaddy: Well, I said it in another thread so here I go again, a prediction.

Obama will no be allowed to fail. 
No matter what new schemes need to be done, no matter the amount of wool the sheeply need supply to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people and no matter the amount of disinformation the talking heads on tv are required to spoon feed the public on a nightly basis, failure will not be an option.
History will show Obama as the most effective president ever, the negro, all negro’s, must be held on high. So I say again, Obongo will not fail.

Chris B: No, I disagree. In a normal economy, I agree with you 100%, but this time, the problem is too big. The problem is, there are not enough schemes to cover this mess. The jewish greed has gone too far this time.

Headlong: Negro ineptitude and corruption has certainly been ubiquitous at other levels of political life – so I don’t see why it would be impossible at the highest.

That exchange left me stunningly appalled and slack-jawed. As most readers know, I regularly re-post ignorant comments uttered from fundamentalist or extreme-religious perspectives — and while in many regards this language is no different, here there is not the slightest effort to legitimize the racist kook’s position. Whites are superior, that’s it.

I have to admit, I couldn’t read much further… I know I will have to, but taking in such soul-sucking foulness is not that easy, and it’s a little depressing / discouraging / paralyzing.

I can only hope that the historic events of this Inauguration Day do not reinforce these people’s hatred and ignorance, pushing them deeper into their demented assumptions about the world. I can only hope there is yet space to let a little light in, that the greatness of today might just make a crack.