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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Warped Views Part 1: Peering through the Lens of Religion -- How Religion Influences our Thinking (And On Child Nudity and Breastfeeding in Public)


Imagine a world with no religion.

I'm not talking about zero religious belief, spirituality, or superstition. I am talking about organized religion that reinforces all of these things and bottles them up in one convenient to access package of ideologies ready made to believe without any effort.

What if this influence faded into, well, nothing?

What would that look like exactly?

Now, hear me out. I realize it's not likely, nor at all that realistic. 

The psychologist Bruce M. Hood's books Supersense and The Science of Superstition do a great job at illustrating why we have superstitious beliefs in the first place. Apparently, our brains are hard wired to experience certain types of errors that lead to superstitious reasoning more often than not.

Jesse Bering's book The Belief Instinct applies this well known fact and asks how much do our superstitious beliefs feed into our everyday beliefs systems, including religion. It's no surprise that we come to discover that it's a lot.

So, please don't mistake me. I know religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's practically hardwired into how we think. At least, the superstitious aspects are.

Which is why I have always striven toward more rationalistic thinking, to try and counter-balance the superstitious nature of thought and the way the human mind is inclined to work.

But, like John Lenin posited in his song "Imagine," what if there was no religion?

Now, I decided to take this concept and apply it to some very mundane things which, on the surface, appear to be unrelated to religion but which, upon closer inspection, actually seem to reveal a strong religious influence.

Many of these things are cultural attitudes, ways of thinking, or even customs. At this point, the psychology only tells us there is a connection between human thought and behavior and religious / supernatural thinking, but what if we were to take a step back and pretend... as a thought experiment... of what would happen when we take the religious lenses off for a moment?

I'm going to start with an example that popped up in my news feed not so long ago.

I don't remember the source, but I had read a report where a woman had called the cops on her neighbor because the next door neighbor's kids were in the front yard, running around the sprinkler, on a hot summer day, without any clothes on.

Apparently one of the children was an eight year old girl, and the priggish neighbor felt that was just brazenly inappropriate, and called the cops on the kids (or more precisely, the kid's parents).

At first glance, this just seems to be an overly prudish and puritan person with a crippling sense of propriety that compels them to force others to the same levels of priggishness. It also seems to reflect a person who has not themselves experienced raising small children.

I think it's safe to say that small children running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day is a co-ed sport, and all of us who have raised small children seem to know it. In fact, it's a universal fact among experienced parents.

Apparently, for this woman, the nudity of a small innocent children playing across the street offended her to the point where she felt it was her *duty to call the cops on some innocent children playing in the water on a nice summer day.

First off, let's call it out for what it was: an overreaction, for sure.

But it got me to wondering, why did she feel this way? Why did she feel that this reaction was the appropriate reaction to be having here?

It's no secret. The reason most people are prudes is because the idea of sex offends them.

So the weird part is that she was obviously sexualizing small children to some small degree. That is, she was viewing them from the standpoint of an adult who knows about sex and imposing her embarrassment of sex and sexuality onto them. Needless to say, a child isn't yet familiar with this sort of thinking.

Stranger still, however, was that she viewed the children's play as inherently wrong because they were naked. She didn't just feel it was inappropriate, but she also obviously felt on some deeper level that it was morally wrong. This is evidenced by her response that upon witnessing innocent naked children playing in the water she called the cops. 

That, to me, doesn't seem to be the appropriate reaction. You only call the cops if you need help or are reporting a crime. She obviously didn't need any help. So it's clear that, in her mind, she was reporting a crime.

But there is nothing especially criminal about being naked (I'm not talking about indecency laws here -- just the act of being naked). Furthermore, what we can say here for certain is that there is nothing especially criminal about small children playing outdoors naked (especially in their own homes and own yards).

The only way a grown adult could assume that nudity was itself a kind of deviant or criminal conduct was to believe that nudity itself was somehow inherently morally wrong.

Now where have we heard such a story?

That's right. We hear of such a tale in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

As the Christian story goes, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit at the behest of the talking snake, full well knowing that God had commanded them not to eat of that particular fruit. She convinces Adam to partake of the fruit, and they both gain the knowledge of life and death. 

In their new found knowledge, they obviously come of age, and upon realizing they are sexually mature -- they become embarrassed and cover themselves (usually depicted as covering up with a fig leaf). God pulls back the curtain at the last minute, like a parent stumbling upon one of their teenage kids having sex on their bed with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and asks what they've been up to (wink, wink, nod, nod) and then berates them. In their shame they cover themselves with fig leaves and, like young adults who still get treated as children, are punished for their disobedience.

From this fable Christians have made all kinds of erroneous assumptions, but the most damaging perhaps being that sex before marriage is a sin (apparently Adam and Eve were created married? God created Adam a companion, sometimes interpreted by Christians to mean a wife -- not merely friends with benefits), that sex is designed (by God) to only be between a man and a woman (e.g., Adam and Eve not Adam an Steve) and that women are inferior to men (hence Eve gets the blame and the worse of the punishments). 

[It's worth noting that there are other passages found in the Bible where Christians derive the purity myth and the notion of not living in sin before marriage -- but they will often say that Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife and will claim that this fable, with a talking snake, represents the Christian model of one man, a husband, and one woman, his wife, concept of marriage and thus claim that anything that deviates from this model is wrong in the eyes of their God.]

Now it is likely that this fable was the driving ideological element that gave rise to the woman's own prudish views of nudity. She believed nudity was a sin, because she equates nudity with the ideas of sex and sexuality -- the very "crime" Adam and Eve got caught doing moments after eating of the forbidden fruit, and therefore thinks all nudity is sinful.

As such, the idea of some children playing naked in a sprinkler one summer day, was distorted by this woman's religious beliefs (faith) to make an otherwise innocent act into a sinful and depraved one from which she, for the life of her, couldn't tell the difference from an act of harmless innocence and a genuine harmful criminal act.

This is precisely how religion and religious beliefs can sometimes warp our views of the world around us.

Now, in my own deconversion, it took me a long time to realize that many things looked different once I had taken off the ruby lenses of my religious spectacles. After seeing the world anew, apart from my religious upbringing, I realized that I had to reconsider a great deal many things.

Of course, I can't help but wonder what other areas within society and our culture are governed by this overbearing act of religious influence upon our thinking.

As with the above example, where a woman found the nudity of innocent children playing outside offensive, I have to wonder... is this why so many find breast feeding in public offensive too?

I mean, when you pause to think about it, there's really no reason to get offended by a newborn infant drinking its mother's milk. If it didn't, it would surely die. But there are people out there that seem to be so offended by the sight of a bare bosom that they are willing to vote for laws that ensure a child must starve away, wailing and crying, and seeks to make it illegal for the mother to feed her child in public. 

I really cannot see how such a warped notion of public etiquette could come from a secular worldview and the understanding that we, as humans, are mammals. And mammal infants require their mothers milk. And thus it is perfectly natural for newborn infants to suckle from their mother's tit.

What is unnatural is to freak out by this fact. So much so that you'd want to make it illegal, or else really difficult, for a mother to feed her infant child in public.

It seems to me that this warped thinking can only arise from the same place -- the overly bashful, modest, since of religious bred propriety that is so completely embarrassed by any modicum of sexual nudity (and by extension nudity) because it likens sex to being a kind of morally wrong conduct and a sin, and thus views the human anatomy in utter disgust.

Many will claim it's not actually religion that is convincing people that it is not appropriate to breast feed in public. Some say it is a matter of protecting the women from would be perverts and molesters. But again, the reasoning behind this seems to share a common source. 

First off, I will say that if a person is stalking women who breast feed simply to get off on the sight of breasts, these people are sick. But it seems we find that there is a bit of victim blaming going on here. For we aren't calling out the perverts so much as we seem to be saying that it's the woman's fault for not being modest enough.

That's just insane on the face of it!

What we can do is write laws against ogling women who breast feed in public. Additionally, we can clamp down on sexual harassment. And, further still, we can create safe public areas for women who need to nurse their infant children.

That seems to be the proper response to help facilitate women who need to breastfeed in public.

What doesn't make sense, however, is to see a boobie with a small human being attached to the end of it suckling, and freak the hell out and then denigrate the mother with slander while calling into question her moral conduct -- all the while claiming you were the one who was offended.

That's totally the wrong action to be having.

And it's only an action one could have if their view of the world was distorted by their religion and religious beliefs so that they gained a rather warped, and even improper, view of things.

All things being equal, we have to seriously wonder. What else might be influenced by religious thinking?

Might tattoos and tattoo art be viewed negatively because of such forms of religious thought? What about body piercing? Or any form of body modification for that matter.

What about viewing pornography and the profession of being a porn star? Nothing seems to be wrong with these things except that, in every case, there is an admonishment of such to be found in the puritan and priggish teachings of religion.

But these are just a few examples. I'm sure there are plenty more we could purse out.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jesus Gets in a Fist-Fight with Anti-Abortion Protesters

In a bit of strange... The Friendly Atheist over at the Patheos blog has posted a very strange article about an altercation between a Fake Jesus and an anti-abortion protest crowd.

Apparently, Fake Jesus counter-protested anti-abortion protesters. The protesters didn't like being counter-protested, so confronted Jesus and created a scene. 

Tempers flared and one of the anti-abortion protester spat on Jesus. 

Apparently Jesus didn't appreciate that and JUDO kicked the motherfucker who spat on him. 

Now, in the aftermath of it all, the good ole Christian community -- who is in support of the rude and degenerate anti-abortion protesters (no surprises there) -- find out Fake Jesus's REAL identity and got him fired then ran him out of town in the name of -- Jesus? WTF?!

Needless to say, I don't condone violence of any kinds. But the Christian dude spat on his own lord and savior! Albeit, just an impostor. But still. Bad form.

I guess my only concern here is... what if it wasn't actually FAKE Jesus but the REAL Jesus the Christian spat on? 

I mean, what if Jesus had really come back? How is he greeted by modern Christians? By getting spat on. 

That's Christian love for you... willing to spit on their own Lord and Savior. 

I bet the protester who spat on Jesus didn't even to stop to wonder why Jesus was standing up for women's rights. He probably thinks, like most Christians, that Jesus had an opinion on abortion. He didn't. But if he did, and Jesus was pro-choice (rather than pro-life), then the Christian thing to do is spit on Jesus.

This is why I cannot take Christians seriously. The Christianity of 21st century America is a self-masturbatory cult that only chants the name Jesus so it can get away with not having to be held morally accountable for anything. It's nuts.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Snippet from The Swedish Fish

I just thought I'd share another short snippet of the Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot by opening up the book at random and sharing with you all wherever my finger so happened to land. This time it's from Chapter 18, pages 175 to 178:

In chapter eighteen, “From Personal Cause to Most Perfect Being,” we find out that the vague and nebulous hypothetical personal agent who spawned the universe is, low and behold, the one and only Perfect being as described by Christian theology!

Coincidence? I think not. Although Randal admits that a ‘personal cause’ is not a satisfactory definition for God, he explains that

I’m certainly not claiming that the statement ‘personal cause of the universe’ is a religiously satisfactory definition of God. But even if that description doesn’t say all a Christian wants to say about God, it certainly says something important. Christians believe that God is the creator of all things and thus that the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ has a personal answer: God.

Who, apart from religious apologists and theologians, claim that the universe must have a personal cause? Who outside of these same apologists and theologians claim that the universe must have their preferred brand of metaphysics, onto which they simply tag their idea of God, as the most plausible?[1]

Once again Sheridan asks how Randal can be so certain it’s the Christian God and not some other deity. This is a point that Sheridan has raised nearly every chapter so far, and so it seems Randal’s reluctance to answer it right off the bat has something to do with him wanting to massage away the painful criticisms of God, via apologetics, before he tackles the issue. There really is no other reason to put it off for half the book as it is a pretty straight forward question.

It seems Randal has no way out this time so he addresses the question and says that the first step in proving that the Christian God is the creator of all things is to supply more “specificity to the general concept of God.”

Yes, this pretty much goes without saying. If you want to identify the general concept of a creator deity with your concept of God, then you will have to specify your concept of God. Thus Randal quotes the medieval Christian theologian Anselm’s definition of God, and goes on to state, “God is the greatest conceivable or most perfect being. It is not possible to conceive a greater being.”

Sheridan then contends that this is rather an abstract philosophical description for the “Christian God.” To which Randal responds:

If God exists, he simply must be the most perfect being. But as long as we’re positing God, it’s legitimate to define God as the most perfect being there could be.

For some reason Sheridan goes along with it. But it’s not that clear Randal has any real reasons to assume God is the most perfect being in the first place, aside from citing Anselm. Anselm, it seems to me, was explicitly appealing to a general conception of God which everyone can agree upon. “What else does anybody mean by ‘God’ than this?” It’s only apologists who begin redefining God from a general concept to their specific theologically laden concept and then saying since everyone agrees that we all must have the same conceptualization of God. My bet would be Randal has taken Anselm’s definition of God and simply mashed it in with his.

Sheridan lets it slide though, and demands to know where one goes with the definition of God after the one Anselm provided. Randal replies:

Well, saying that provides a helpful way to eliminate those descriptions that fail to meet the demands of the definition.

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! Randal mixes things up a bit and cites the Mormon concept of God as an example which fails the test of meeting, with precision, the traditional Christian definition of God. But how is such a test not completely arbitrary? After all, Randal merely looked around and randomly selected the definition of God he liked best, in this case Anselm’s definition, which can apply to most other religions’ gods equally, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. The question is: what does he do about other God-concepts that meet all the criteria for the definition but are not the Christian God?

In Africa, the Akan people of Ghana believe that the deity Nyame is the God of All Things, and their theological description of Nyame meets all the criteria of Anselm’s definition, just to cite one example.

Of course, Randal would probably do what most apologists do and shift the goal posts, select another definition (most likely also at random) that is completely incompatible with the Akan people’s definition of God and then nitpick the details until he could find enough divergence between their theology and his to dismiss it as not-Christian enough.

The rub is that this goal post shifting strategy doesn’t actually prove the Christian definition true. All it really does is make it harder for others to stress the similarities by limiting the definition of God to precisely what works in the best interest of the apologist. That’s not a demonstration, mind you, it’s a cheat.

At the same time, the Akan people could likewise hold their template up to the Christian template, find where the Christian God diverges from their theology, and then dismiss the Christian God as not Akan enough to be considered the God of All Things, in this case the god Nyame.

Most apologists try to avoid this conundrum, of being held to the same standard they invoked in the first place, by simply denying the validity of other people’s idea about god out of the gate (sort of how Randal imagines scientists do it). But this is an undeniable bias, and one I would argue apologists need to try to avoid, especially if they’re going to contend that their God is the one you, and everyone else, ought to believe in.

[1] The William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll “God and Cosmology” debate at Greer-Heard Forum, February of 2014, is one of the best debates on cosmology and theism I have seen. If you’re interested in these questions, I highly recommend watching the video, available online at:

A Snippet from The Swedish Fish

I just thought I'd share a short snippet of the Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot by opening up the book at random and sharing with you all wherever my finger so happened to land. This is it (from page 213) here:

Raising the question of Yahweh’s imperfect character in the Bible, such as jealousy and homicidal tendencies, Sheridan challenges Randal to provide reasons for his continued belief that Yahweh is still a perfect being despite such failings.

Since I believe that Yahweh is the greatest possible being, I must conclude that he did not actually command these actions.

That’s right, true believer—God’s behavior in the Bible is just so shocking, so utterly detestable, so terrifyingly dreadful, so God-damned awful, that Randal simply saves God by affirming it wasn’t God that commanded such acts, but the Israelites acting on the false assumption that God commanded them to enact such atrocities.

Well, so much for “biblical authority.”

The problem I have with Randal’s assumption here is that he must ignore what we already know about the biblical account in order to posit an alternate history which assuages God’s ferocity by shifting the blame from God and placing it squarely on his people. Also, why he thinks the Hebrew war god can be even remotely identified with the abstract god of the philosophers is beyond me.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Are Mass Shootings a New form of Bullying?

It seems there is a mass shooting in America at least once a week now.

I really don't know of any other form of societal psychosis with such ill side effects that is as frequent except for, perhaps, bullying.

Now I'm not talking about mental illness here per se, although this does seem to be a factor we always need to keep in mind. But as I was thinking about some of the reasons for why mass shootings are on the uptick, aside from the number of guns anybody can get their hands on, it dawned on me... what if mass shootings were an expression of one form of serial bullying.

Now what do I mean by serial bullying?

Well, Tim Field, founder of The Field Foundation and Bully OnLine, coined the term to describe the character of a certain type of individual with very specific behavior traits that he cataloged while documenting over 10,000 cases of workplace bullying when he was manager of the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line.

Serial Bully Traits

Perhaps the most easily recognizable Serial Bully traits are:
  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.

After gathering their data and crunching the numbers, Bully Online and The Field Foundation found that serial bullying covers a wide range of people with an even wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

They discovered that:

Approx 20% (of bullies) are teachers, lecturers and school administrative staff
Approx 12% are health care professionals, including nurses, paramedics, GPs etc
Approx 10% are from social services and caring occupations including care of the elderly and people with special needs
Approx 6-8% are from the voluntary and non-profit sector, with small charities (social housing, disadvantaged children, special needs, etc) featuring prominently (these usually involve a female serial bully); this sector has show the highest rate of increase in calls since 1998
Approx 5% are civil servants not included in the above groups

See, traditional bullying involves an insecure person who puts others down, picks on the weak, and makes fun of others, sometimes hurts others, in order to boost their own self-esteem by getting laughs or simply to look strong.

Bullies are typically cowardly and weak, but because they tend to be popular, either through their uncouth antics or else because of intimidation and fear mongering, they usually gain a following.

It is this following that makes the bully dangerous, because they will feed into the bully's need to continually prove themselves in others eyes, and many times the bullies followers will assist the bully in inflicting harm or slinging insults because the bully has created an environment for themselves where this form of behavior is acceptable, even though every mature and rational thinking person knows that it is never acceptable to bully someone.

Bullies want to see people suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

So what if mass shootings reflect this same type of persona? 

We could very well say that mass shooters are often people who suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

Bullies have harmed and killed numerous people through the simple act of bullying. So have mass shooters.

The one thing that may separate traditional bullies from mass shooters is that bullies tend to be genuinely scared, and so continually try to mask that fear. Mass shooters, on the other hand, seem to have come to the point where they no longer care about what happens to them, and have given up -- and so the only way to inflict the sort of pain that a bully traditionally would is to lash out at as many people as possible.

Simple bullying isn't enough. A mass shooter needs to go the extra mile to make themselves feel powerful. So they resort to extreme violence.

We might wonder then, why do so many mass shooters kill themselves after a bloody rampage? My theory is that they simply don't want to face the consequences of their actions. Somewhere in their mind they still realize that justice is more powerful than they are or ever will be, and so the only way to overcome having to face the consequences of their actions, they kill themselves and escape any and all responsibility, opting instead to go down in infamy as a mass shooter. 

Let's recall the list of traits a serial bully has one more time.

  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
    --Most mass shooters tend to hide their "evil" side until they go on the rampage.
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
    --Most mass shooters often find ways to obtain weapons and lie about it. This is especially true with underage mass shooters. They are also good at convincing others that they wouldn't harm a fly, but secretly harbor a desire to harm as many people as possible.
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
    --This one is hard to pin down, because most mass shooters do not like to operate in a social environment. They are usually the disenfranchised. They themselves might be the victims of other serial bullies, and the stress, frustration, and fear they have experienced they want to pay back ten fold.
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
    --Mass shooters often cite a "cause" or "reason" why they shot up a church, or blew up a school. Usually it is because they are attacking some feature of an organisation, individual, or even entire culture, that they do not like and want to see it destroyed. It would also help explain why many recent mass shootings seem to be racially motivated.
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
    --Do you remember the Columbine shooting? Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their fellow students and teachers, injuring over 21 others, before committing suicide. A year after the attack, an analysis of mass shootings in America by officials at the US Secret Service found that bullying played a major role in who the shooters selected as targets. This suggests that mass shootings may incorporate a form of retaliation by the attackers on the victims by blaming the victims for their own slate of problems. It was later found that, in the case of Harris and Klebold, they were the perpetrators of as many incidents of bullying as they were the victims.
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action;
    --This explains why many mass shooters are also suicide shooters. They want to escape any form of disciplinary action for their crimes.
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.
    --Many mass shooters seems to roam about aimlessly after taking out their intended targets when they go on a shooting rampage , racking up a large body count before ending their own lives or being taken down by the authorities.

Now, I'm no psychologist. But it seems that mass shooting interpreted as a form of serial bulling, seems to make a certain amount of sense. At least, it does to me. 

But mass shootings, if they are indeed a form of bullying, seem to me to stem from the disenfranchisement of an individual from society more than it seems to fit with a certain socioeconomic norm wherein bullying typically thrives. In fact, a 2010 study found that rejection of a peer group (a type of disenfranchisement) was the leading motivating factor behind most school shootings.

Either way, we are talking about an unacceptable practice regardless of where it rears its ugly head.

Viewing mass shootings as a form of bullying would also explain why it seems to be getting worse. 

Bullying is a behavior that is extremely hard to squash, especially when there is an environment that is ripe for it. 

America just so happens to be perfectly suited for the rise of mass shootings. And this plays out on a weekly, monthly, and annually basis in what has become all too common place, senseless mayhem and violence inflicted on countless innocent people by mass shooters, a new lot of bullies for the 21st century.

For more on mass shootings and school rampage shootings, please see:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Midnight Ramble: Skepticism, Atheism, Science, and Freethought

It could be said that skepticism, atheism, and freethought go hand in hand.

But they also can stand on their own.

When I was a believer I still upheld the values of skepticism, of questioning the world, of having doubts. Of course, I was always told to have faith, and to walk the good path, and to listen for God's calling... but the more I learned, the more doubts I had.

Eventually my skepticism overrode my credulity. I could no longer maintain a standard on incredulity based on my desire to uphold faith above all else -- even if it meant maintain the faith when I knew it wasn't truth. I just valued Truth more than Faith.

And, no, they are not one and the same thing as so many religious friends have tried to tell me. That's just a religious semantic trick to try and stronghold the truth and make it "God's truth" and then say if you don't believe in that then you don't have the truth. It's an empty shell game, because anyone who claims to have "God's truth" on their side has obviously picked what they want God's truth to be.

A skeptic is skeptical precisely because they know about subjectivity and things like objective standards, and these must be taken into consideration before claiming you have any sort of truth. 

So gradually my skepticism compelled me to question my faith. And it was a decade long practice.

That is to say, the truth doesn't come easily. You have to work for it. You have to want it.

Those who say that faith is all you need don't care about the truth.

They've merely conflated their faith for the truth, and that's a dangerous thing to do.

Freethought is an exercise in thinking skeptically. The Golden Age of Freethought championed people who openly questioned the institutions of their day, including religious ones. Robert G. Ingersoll is among my favorite Freethinkers, and he once said, "The intellectual advancement of man depends upon how often he can exchange an old superstition for a new truth."

I couldn't agree more.

When people find out that I am an atheist, they often accuse me of championing the New Atheist movement because I support things like science and rationality over faith and spirituality.

I often get labeled a proponent of scientism, and I doubt that the people who frequently lob that word around even know its philosophical significance. But the so-called New Atheism wasn't the first to champion the benefits of science and the scientific method. Once again, Ingersoll elucidates us: 

"The glory of science is, that it is freeing the soul, breaking the mental manacles, getting the brain out of bondage, giving courage to thought, filling the world with mercy, justice, and joy." 

The notion that science could help enlighten us with truth and knowledge has been around a long time. It is something I have incorporated into my form of atheism, along with a healthy dose of skepticism and a desire to be more rational minded. If this makes me a "New Atheist" the so be it. But anyone who is familiar with the term Freethinker will know it originated there first, and like the Frethinkers of the past, I too feel that science is a beneficial tool in helping humanity progress to the next stage of technological, social, and even moral evolution.

But that doesn't mean I am preaching scientism. It just means I don not think science's ability to explain things is limited only to one sphere of understanding. But at the same, do I think science can and will explain everything? I tend to doubt it, after all, the skeptic inside of me wouldn't be satisfied unless I did.

I guess you might say I have faith in science, as it has an astonishing track record thus far. But this faith is akin more to a kind of confidence in the succes rate of science. An unwritten understanding that my faith in science is justified. So whenever someone tells me that I need as much faith to believe in science, or my kind of athiesm, as they do their faith in God (or whatever else they might believe) I have to correct them and say, no, I'm sorry, but my faith is based on a known success rate of something we have tested and found to be reliable. Your faith is based on what you wish to be truth.

These are entirely different kinds of faith.

Another favorite Freethinker of mine, the blaze Brit G.W. Foote, said it best I think, when he stated:

"What is Faith? Faith, said Paul, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is a faith that sensible men avoid. The man of reason may have faith, but it will be a faith according to knowledge, and not a faith that dispenses with knowledge. ... Religious faith, however, is something very different. It is not belief based on evidence, but the evidence and the belief in one. The result is that persons who are full of faith always regard a demand for evidence as at once a heresy and an insult. Their faith seems to them, in the language of Paul, the very substance of their hopes; and they often talk of the existence of God and the divinity of Christ as being no less certain than their own existence."

This sort of religious faith, the kind that does not dispense with knowledge but has, for mainly emotional reasons, exceedingly high levels of certainty is the kind of faith I think we should all be a little skeptical of.

If science didn't dispense with knowledge in the way it does, then I'm pretty sure I'd be skeptical of it too. But seeing as it has been tried, tested, and proved -- I think it's safe to bet on science.

So all these things comprise the type of atheism I like to believe in and so too the kind of atheist I am. Of course, in the future these may change. My values may shift. I might add or take away from the belief system I have worked hard to develop. 

But, at the end of the day, I can be satisfied knowing that I have come to a point in my life where things finally make sense, and where the questions and doubts I have finally seem to have available answers, or at least the promise of real answers -- rather than just the promise of a truth that is so unfathomable that it requires that wishful form of faith to even believe it is true in the first place.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On the Abortion, Pro-life, and Pro-choice Debate: Some Questions

So you think abortion is murder do you? 

If so, then this post is for you! 

And I have some serious questions that I need to ask you regarding abortion.

You say abortion is the deliberate taking of a helpless life, and that it equates to murder.

This suggests to me that you take "life" to be sacred, correct? (Sanctity of life and all that jazz.)

If so, let me ask you some questions that we must resolve before I take your claim serious.

1. Do you eat meat? Or isn't animal life sacred? If not, why not? Aren't animals part of God's creation just as humans are?

2. For that matter, how does one go about determining what is and isn't sacred?

3. You say abortion equates to murder. This is a legal term. I am curious, at what point do you consider a collection of living cells to become a "life" unto itself? 

4. Do you think it's at conception? 

5. If so, would it still be murder to abort if the egg and the sperm haven't even fused together yet? Is this still a "life" or still just an collection of independent living cells, an egg and a sperm?

6. If it's still murder to kill an independent egg or sperm, does that make masturbation a criminal offense? 

7. More importantly, since you are making abortion a political issue, at what point do you give legal rights to an unborn fetus?

8. Do you feel these legal rights should be limited by the courts as is the law with most children for the same reasons? Or do you feel the rights of the unborn fetus supersede the mother's rights and ought to be uninfringible? 

9. If you think all abortions are evil, I'm assuming you do since you call it murder, then do you think forcing a woman to have a birth is any less evil? If not, why not?

10. Isn't treating women like property, or mere incubators, let alone telling them they are public property and that they cannot deny a forced birth, just as evil? 

I think so. I don't see how a person can square forcing women to give birth, which is a kind of slavery (ownership over a woman) and being anti-abortion (which you say you find to be a form of murder).

Both slavery and murder are outlawed and universally acknowledged to be a couple of the worst kinds of evils. Replacing one with the other doesn't do women justice.

11. Are you seriously going to say there are no medical reasons or situations that would ever necessitate the need for abortion? 

What about a severe birth defect like anencephaly -- being born without a brain, can you honestly claim this is not reason to show mercy and prevent the uneeded suffering of the mother and the child? 

12. Or do you think increasing the suffering of the mother and her child is less evil than abortion? Would the God you believe in, since you say life is sacred, see your selfish reasons to compound their suffering as just, merciful, or even kind? If not, do you still think there are no reasons to allow abortion?

13. If denying a merciful abortion and forcing unimaginable suffering onto others is not just as evil in your eyes as genuine murder (which you claim abortion to be), why not?  

14. Do you think individualism complicates legal concerns any? How about the autonomy over self? Doesn't a woman have the right to govern her own body? 

15. Are you saying an unborn fetus owns realstate within an autonomous woman? How do we not have a conflict of interests in where you are granting individuality to two biological entities and then finding a legal way to grant one set of legal protections (as an individual) to one but not the other?

16. If we are talking about the mother's womb as property, and saying the unborn fetus has legal rights of ownership to that womb, are you claiming the fetus is co-owner of a woman's body and body space?

17. How does making it about property benefit the mother? Don't you have to strip her of her individuality and autonomy and limit her legal status and protections before you can claim the baby has rights that supersede hers?

18. How does being anti-abortion seek to help women? 

19. Do you support the death penalty? If so, then how can you claim life is sacred?

20. Do you support enlistment into the military / armed services / terrorism, etc. If not, then how can you say life is sacred?


Okay, now that I've asked my questions, if you still have time, I'd like to share my onw personal views here on why I think pro-choice is not a strong position and why anti-abortion is demonstrably irrational.

Although I understand the moral concerns driving the pro-life position, I don't find it very realistic. Hopeful, sure. Realistic though? Hardly. 

You see, it very rarely ever attempts to adequately address any of these above questions, which it would have to do in order to be meaningful or at all pragmatically beneficial to women, let alone the unborn fetuses it is so concerned about. 

In my opinion, the anti-abortion stance suffers even worse from being unrealistic. Whereas I see valid philosophical justifications for being pro-life (after all, we could say you are a deeply compassionate person who just doesn't want to see death and suffering of innocent life), I see no such justification for being anti-abortion. 

They are not one in the same, mind you.

The ethical consequences of being pro-life or pro-choice can be talked about on a philosophical level apart from the politics. I would even go as far as to say it is a discussion worth having, at least as far as it is a good introduction to bioethics and having to formulate arguments to try and rebut and defend.

Actually separating the politics from pro-life and the ethical concerns contained therein is another matter entirely, however. 

But the thing to note here is that taking an anti-abortion stance is strictly a political move, and completely fails to address any and all of the ethical concerns. Therefore, I hold it as an uncritical emotional reaction, and one that is commonly based on fallacious information.

Anti-abortion is also anti-woman, and that's probably the most damning thing, since if we wanted less abortions we'd have to actively prevent policies and viewpoints that take the anti-woman stance. Only when we make things better for women, such as better access to affordable healthcare (especially in economically downtrodden areas) can we begin to deter the rise of abortions and limit them to what is manageable and necessary.

As such, the very fact that anti-abortion is anti-woman necessitates reason to be against the anti-abortion position.

I'm sorry, but it's my strong opinion that claiming abortion is murder is a demonstrably wrong claim, and also a bit callous toward all the women who have had to have abortions for VALID medical reasons. 

"At least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and at 2008 abortion rates, one in 10 women will have an abortion by age 20, one in four by age 30 and three in 10 by age 45.[4,5]"

Half of American women!!!

Three out of ten women (in America alone) will have already had abortions by their forties!!!

Are all these women murders? Are their doctors murderers? The nurses? The hospital staff? 

I hope we can all agree that being anti-abortion and equating it with murder simply is not a rational point of view. Nor is it very reasonable. My hope is to find reasonable answers to all these questions that can satisfy the conditions to make pro-life a valid position worthy of promoting. But the way I see it, it simply isn't because it fails to address so many of the questions and concerns it would need to in order to be a realistic answer to abortion.

We do not live in a perfect world. Humans are not the epitome of prefect biological organisms. We have faulty bodies with an even faultier make up which requires us to be more realistic. If there are pragmatic answers to be had, banning abortion is simply not one of them.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist