Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Theist's Claim to Ultimate Charity Needs To Stop

     


   A man, seeing a homeless person, takes pity on him and hands him a dollar. The homeless man is grateful—they shake hands and part. 
     A second man, seeing the homeless person, takes pity on him and hands him a dollar. The homeless man is again grateful—they shake hands and part. 
     What is the difference between the two benefactors? 
     If I were to tell you that one was an evangelical Christian, and one was a militant atheist, we suddenly have a serious topic of discussion on our hands. The given is that they gave the same amount of money, were equally kind in their interactions with the homeless man, and similar in all other standards by which the generosity of the act can be, on the surface, based. Therefore, the question arises: are we dealing with actions of equal moral magnitude? 
     The answer, most would be surprised to find, is no. It is and always has been my contention that a good act is only altruistic when it goes unrecompensed materially—that is to say, my definition of altruism for the sake of this argument discriminates against, say, the good feelings one receives from performing a benevolent act. An altruistic act is one performed that is in no way reimbursed on a physical level. 
     Thus it is that, when an atheist gives freely to a person in need, they do not by the nature of their life’s philosophy expect a reward of any kind. If they do not believe in karma, they therefore do not expect the benefit of their actions to come back to them in the future. They do not believe in heaven, or god, and don’t expect to be divinely congratulated or rewarded, or even recognized for their service. The only primary goal that can be assumed is that the deed was done for the sake of the deed alone, and that no compensation for it was necessary. 
    This cannot be assumed of the theist in the same respect. Surely, there are many believers who happily give their time and means to help those less unfortunate than they, but it cannot logically be assumed based on their ideology that they do not expect or want a reward for their services. When it is given that you are constantly being watched, every move being scrutinized for the sake of Judgment Day (or judgment of any kind), it necessitates the assumption that this may compel your actions, and otherwise inspire you to acts of compassion that one was not previously desirous to commit for the sake of oneself. Again, this is obviously not universally the case, but it is an assumption that must be made when no other information is known. 
     Perhaps this is too reductionist—I admit, I am guilty of the act of oversimplification at times. However, the case in point—that the atheist can never perform an action with the intention of spiritual reward, while it never can be ruled out that the theist may be performing the same deed for that very reason—at least must be illustrated by the previous hypothetical. But does this say anything about the morality of the situation? If a dollar could buy one’s way into heaven, as Monsieur G├ęborand attempted to do with a sou, is the dollar worth less to the one in need of it? If we were to assume the spiritual world to be capitalistic in nature, would it be an immoral action to pay your way through goodness?       
     The faithful might have escaped this question had they not been promised rewards for their charitable indulgence—which makes the action less moral than it otherwise might have been (i.e.: it can’t be proven that I’m doing this for you, and it can be reasonably assumed I am doing this entirely for me). The proof of this can be found in Bible verses such as: 

           Matthew 1:4: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” 

        Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” 

          Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” 

         Proverbs 21:13: “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” 

         Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” 

      
      Let us not forget, of course, that the Beatitudes are themselves a series of bribes, a list of prescribed virtues that have merit in themselves but, to the theist mind, are coupled with rewards, instead. Actions that should be self-apparent in their desirable quality are instead transformed into a series of remunerations: 

          
      Matthew: 5:3-12: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of 
heaven. 
       Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
       Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
       Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.  
       Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. 
       Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
       Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. 
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
     Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

    Charity, generosity, forgiveness, meekness (a highly overrated virtue, in any case), mercy, purity in heart (whatever that means), peacefulness—are not all of these characteristics that people should adopt based on their own merit? O! what a piece of work is man, that we would need to be rewarded for the act of helping another who was in need of it, or at least be promised the possibility of the reward to consider the action? From these, one can see that, no matter how loudly one claims the contrary, the theist can never disentangle himself from the spiritual “reality” that his charitable efforts on Earth can never be wholly for the sake of the action, but that they are tallied by the omniscient view of his deity and used either for his benefit or to tip the scales toward his eternal punishment. Only for those who perform identical actions that live in unbelief of this same reward/punishment system, can we assume that this isn’t the case.
     Furthermore, the weight of the reward at hand must also be taken into account: the reward of a pat on the back or a brief bit of notoriety might be worth ignoring for the sake of having done something worthwhile. Or, if we were to more materialistically look at the same circumstance, to say that giving away one dollar might come back as a reward of five. But theists are not gambling with such tawdry jackpots—for them, the game is eternal paradise, infinite splendor, and ultimate exaltation. How can this not be a piece of the formula by which we measure the morality of their actions? How could we look at even their most benevolent of acts and not take into account that they happen to be planning toward that very sort of heavenly retirement? 
     All of these observations take place on an even playing field: an atheist gives a dollar, and a theist gives a dollar, and we deduce what we can merely from this information, alone. But what if these variables were changed? What if the Christian gave more than a dollar? What if they gave ten? A million? 
     This hypothetical is easy to entertain, as it is well known that Christian and otherwise religious groups do charity work ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year. This is offset, however, by the exorbitant cost they also waste on the most tawdry of things—the Effingham Cross in Illinois, for example: a 198-foot-tall steel eyesore that cost circa $1.1 million to build. Or, if that doesn’t quite turn the stomach, consider the mega-monstrosity of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, a ministry that has an annual budget of $70 million per year, which is exactly as much as the entire country of Norway donated to UNICEF in 2012. Such extravagance is so self-evidently ludicrous and distasteful that it doesn’t require comment from Yours Truly, and besides which I have written about it before. But these examples help illuminate the self-proliferation of churches and their iconography as opposed to the charitable work that they do or the generous motif they claim to represent. After all, it’s difficult to justify calling Joel Osteen’s church (the largest in America) a “charitable” organization when it cost $75 million to renovate the space in which it resides, and its pastor lives in a mansion valued at $10.5 million. 
     None of these facts are required to remember, however, that charity is not the province of the faithful. Secular charities doing excellent work all over the world—the ACLU, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Goodwill Industries, The Nature Conservancy, S.H.A.R.E., The United Nations Children’s Fund, and UNICEF—are all making great strides in aiding the world with relief from natural disasters, polio, poverty, epidemics, and the violation of civil liberties: each and every one of these companies working under the premise that they won’t go to heaven for their efforts, nor will any of their participating partners receive the kind of income from their work that Mr. Osteen does. It must be assumed that his benevolence is greater and therefore worthy of the exorbitant recompense. “A bone to the dog is not charity,” as Jack London says. “Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” I would be tempted to compare Mr. London’s quote to that of the story of the poor woman in the Gospel of Mark, who stood in a line of rich people that threw in large amounts to the temple treasury being collected. When her turn in line came, she threw in only a small copper, and Jesus praised her, saying: “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” This would be a rather inspiring parable on the nature of charity, were he not praising her for her contribution to a church and instead her generosity to others. The warm feelings are somewhat dissolved when it’s realized that, instead of asking her money, the temple treasury should have given her some. 
     Of course, the faithful contribute to some of these causes in ways that we secularists would never dare dream. In my most coldhearted day, I cannot imagine finding a homeless, starving Haitian citizen, who had just lost everything in a devastating earthquake, and in all my grace, sacrificing the time and expense to give that person . . . a Bible. Proselytization is the fruit of all compassion, it would seem, for an Albuquerque faith-based group who sent six-hundred solar-powered audio Bibles to the grief-wracked Port-au-Prince in 2010. Whatever can be said about secular charities in whole or in part, the work of the godless cannot be accused of such abject and bitter callousness. 
     In this same vein, some of the most “charitable” religious causes are so easily found to be fraudulent in their endeavors that they reek of the obscene. Would it be too cheap at this stage to bring up Mother Teresa, in whose orphanages countless children perished from her refusal to give them modern medicine, and her endless quest to end contraceptive use in a country where the vast number of HIV/AIDS cases were in heterosexual couples and, while the epidemic has come down a bit since Agnes’ time (undoubtedly due to greater sexual education in the area sans her caterwauling), still reports that 7% of all HIV cases are that of children? I leave it to you to decide, gentle reader, what kind of charity this was, though I posit that it was none at all. In so many cases, the religious don’t seek to give help—they’re simply expanding their doctrine, their own way of seeing the world, to the most credulous and impressionable of people, those who in their destitution, illness, and pain will turn to anyone and anything that is extended to them. It’s not kindness or benevolence, in Teresa’s case or any others. It’s simple opportunism. And we atheists can be accused of the same the day that we pass out copies of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason in lieu of vaccines in Calcutta. 
      Is it possible to do less and still call it charity? Can theists even retain their Bibles and their rants on condoms—perchance even do nothing­—and still have the unmitigated gall to refer to it as beneficial, moral work? They do, indeed: and they call it “prayer”. Those with raised eyes calling to Plath’s empty sky may think they are doing all the good in the world, but thanks to work such as that done by the Templeton Foundation’s Great Prayer Experiment, we know this not to be the case. And besides which, appealing to a higher authority to take action in a world where we have the power to help those in need is an act of cowardice, an abdication of our human responsibility: how can one sit in a room and pray that god sends help to a tsunami-ravaged Japan when the room in question cost as much to build as could rehabilitate untold thousands—perhaps millions, in the cases of these mega-churches—of people? This is without getting into the logical instability of attempting to sway the pre-determined future of a globe set by an omnipotent, omniscient deity. If god knows all and sees all, then his plan is inalterable, and therefore intercessory prayer can literally do nothing to change an already designed future—unless you think you can change the mind of the Alpha and Omega. Those praying for the relief of indescribable pain for myriad reasons in a distant hemisphere would measurably do more good by posting a Facebook status instead. So indeed, “Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” 
      In a charitable sense, could this get even worse? Surely, the immorality of doing nothing and claiming it to be something cannot be trumped by any action. It is the sad case, however, that many believers have gone so far as to thwart the kindly efforts of atheist humanitarians just by virtue of their non-belief. In an article posted by The Washington Post in December, 2013, we see a number of these attempts at kindness overruled by self-serving believers (or for their sake), including: 

            “A group of Kansas City, Mo., nonbelievers was told their help was not needed after they volunteered to help a local Christian group distribute Thanksgiving meals.” 

          “A $3,000 donation to a Morton Grove, Ill., park, collected by a local atheist group, was returned. Park officials said they did not wish to “become embroiled in a First Amendment dispute.” 
  
      “A group of Spartanburg, S.C., atheists was denied the opportunity to help at a Christian-run soup kitchen. The soup kitchen’s executive director told local press she would resign before accepting the atheists’ help and asked, “Why are they targeting us?”

      The biggest rejection, as reporter Kimberly Winston goes on to say, was a $250,000 donation to the American Cancer Society. What sane charity would turn down a quarter-of-a-million dollars when given freely to one of the most deadly illnesses in our country? While the ACS didn’t site their hesitation to accept money from an atheist organization as cause for the rejection, the fact that the check did come from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation is something to be seriously considered.
     Finally, let’s consider the act of charity on an otherwise even playing field—meaning that, for the moment, let’s put away all the other previous facts and look at faith-based organizations as genuinely charitable institutions: does this then make them moral institutions? It would seem that the goodness of an entity must be measured directly against the evil that it also does. In the words of the late, great Christopher Hitchens as he debated with former Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject of churches as charitable organizations in November of 2010: 

          “I knew it would come up that we'd be told about charity, and I take this very seriously, because we know, ladies and gentlemen, as it happens, we're the first generation of people who do really know what the cure for poverty really is. It eluded people for a long, long time. The cure for poverty has a name, in fact: it's called the empowerment of women. If you give women some control over the rate at which they reproduce, if you give them some say, take them off the animal cycle of reproduction to which nature and some doctrine—religious doctrine—condemns them, and then if you'll throw in a handful of seeds perhaps and some credit, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty, but education, health, and optimism will increase. It doesn't matter; try it in Bangladesh, try it in Bolivia, it works—works all the time. . . . Now, furthermore, if you are going to grant this to Catholic charities, say, which I would hope are doing a lot of work in Africa, if I was a member of a church that had preached that AIDS was not as bad as condoms, I'd be putting some conscience money into Africa too, I must say. . . . It won't bring back the millions of people who have died wretched deaths because of their teaching. That still goes on. I'd like to hear a word of apology from the religious about that, if it was on offer, after all, otherwise I'd be accused of judging them by the worst of them, and this isn't done, as Tony says so wrongly, ‘in the name of religion’, it's a direct precept, practice, and enforceable discipline of religion, is it not, sir, in this case? I think you'll find that it is. But if you're going to say, all right, the Mormons will tell you the same, ‘You may think it's a bit cracked to think Joseph Smith found another bible buried in upstate New York, but you should see our missionaries in action.’ I'm not impressed. I'd rather have no Mormons, no missionaries quite honestly, and no Joseph Smith. Do we grant to Hamas and to Hezbollah, both of whom will tell you, and incessantly do, ‘Look at our charitable work. Without us defending the poor of Gaza, the poor of Lebanon, where would they be?’ And they're right, they do a great deal of charitable work. It's nothing compared to the harm that they do, but it's a great deal of work all the same. . . . The injunction not to do to another what would be repulsive done to yourself is found in the Analects of Confucius, if you want to date it, but actually it's found in the heart of every person in this room. Everybody knows that much. We don't require divine permission to know right from wrong. We don't need tablets administered to us ten at a time in tablet form on pain of death to be able to have a moral argument. No, we have the reasoning and the moral suasion of Socrates and our own abilities. We don't need dictatorship to give us right from wrong.” 

       Verbose though he was (and famous for it), Hitch summarized beautifully the fulcrum of the argument, which is that no matter what good works believers choose to banner in their pamphlets and billboards, they still have the wracking manacles of the evil that they do to contend with, which far outweighs their charity. The argument of the immoral actions of the faithful is a list so long that it took the whole of my previous book to discuss it in any detail, and the attempt to rehash it here would be futile. Suffice it to say that it would be the worth the time of the reader to understand that basic point as well as they can, whether gleaning it from my work or from anyone else’s, in order to see the incredible imbalance between the “good deeds” of religion and the bloodshed, ignorance, pain, and despair it actually creates, making the idea of a few million spent here and there on various humanitarian causes very prosaic indeed. 
       I would be beyond remiss if I did not close with one of the most poignant and pertinent distinctions between theist and non-theist acts of charity—one that for all its obviousness sometimes hides in plain sight: charity is mandated by religion in many cases, certainly in the case of monotheism. If we were to ignore all that was previously discussed in this section: that a theist may be playing the game for himself, that their charity pales in comparison both to their exorbitant selfishness and the otherwise malicious actions of their church, and that theists don’t have a particular monopoly on charitable acts to begin with—all this means nothing in the face of the fact that theists are told to do it. Much like our first example with our two benefactors and the single homeless man, we can rest assured that there are likely many religious people who give freely on their own accord—but we cannot exclude the assumption that they may be working merely under the direct command of their divine dictator. And as it can be reasonably assumed that an act of forced charity isn’t really within the accepted spirit of charity at all, there is good cause to think that any inspiration of human solidarity or good will is sapped from the beginning. Coerced faux-kindness is, to a certain degree, a charge entirely vacant from the atheist rap sheet.  
     Of course, the question must then be asked—and most simply in a variation of our previous hypothetical: if a murderer gives a dollar to a person in need, is that less of a moral action? The answer: no, but we can certainly agree that the murderer, by the nature of his dollar-giving, is not thereby an example nor an authority on morality. This, in a nutshell, is my view of the believer’s claims when unimpressive words like “charity” come along.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Response to Ken Ham's Direct Accusation That An Atheist Has No Moral Compass

Mere hours ago, gentle readers, I found my via my Facebook feed that my friend and admired colleague Dan Arel, of Alternet, The Huffington Post, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science fame, was to be speaking briefly on the radio of an overrated Christian station, regarding Ham's feelings being "attacked" by secularists. In order to support my friend, but also to provide another well-needed atheist voice on the station, I struck up the number and hammer-dialed until I got through.

With Ham on the line, I heard Dan defend well the economic concerns of Ham's Ark Encounter park, namely whether or not it would be supported by public dollars (which, in a sense, it is). Ham deftly evaded the questions put to Dan by calling him a liar and the station quickly hung up the line, which Dan wrote about here. I waited in eager anticipation to get in my own question, which was apropos my own concerns on the morality of the Bible, especially on the Old Testament, on which Ham considers himself an expert.

When my opportunity came, (which can be heard here, around timestamp 47:17) I decided that with such little time a simple question would be in order to ask Mr. Ham: if Noah's action to curse his grandson for a crime he didn't commit was moral or not. Rather unexpectedly, Mr. Ham (who lives well up to his latter name with his response) asked me why I should care at all, as an atheist can't have an ultimate basis for a moral compass and therefore shouldn't mind what Noah did in any case. His Twitter clarification is below to avoid any confusion on his thoughts.


My own quickly-typed reply and subsequent erroneous syntax notwithstanding, I was surprised because I expected a theist of Mr. Ham's debating experience not to supply such a remarkably soft-ball and trite response; an answer I have heard many times while debating theists. And, since I had promised him on air that I would be happy to continue this discussion on another platform in regards to available time, I am required by my duty as a gentleman and as a commentator on the topic to provide a more definitive answer, here.

Can an atheist have a moral commentary, since a theist assumes he doesn't have an ultimate center from which a moral judgement is made? 

The answer is whole-heartedly yes, for the most obvious of reasons. An atheist performs an action to the public scrutiny of human solidarity -- we understand whether or not an action is wrong based on our evolutionary psychology. We know that killing is wrong because it would have weakened the integrity of the social unit. We know that adultery is wrong because it would have destabilized the primacy of genetic progression. We know that pederasty is wrong because it is traumatic to the child, whose health is paramount in the proliferation of the species. But, more poetically and importantly, we understand that in doing harm to our fellow humans, we toxify the idea of love and spread social entropy in its place; a thing at which our humanity balks. In tandem with this, we distinctly understand that a violation of these principles means that we would have to answer to ourselves, and not to someone else's imaginary friend, conjured for the purposes of enforcing such self-moral observations in the first place. For these reasons and more, not believing in god allows for the greatest possible morality, as we thereby base our actions not on faith, but on human retribution and an established social order. 

This is without saying that my inquiry of Mr. Ham was made from the politest possible grammar, and his response was more than deprecating, but even abusive. I'll not suffer to be called by a creationist hack to be lacking in human decency, while he touts as a moral teaching a book which commands the slaughter of innocent peoples, the quashing of free thought, the subjection of women, and the sacrifice of children. It goes without comment to say that the moral platform is, in this case, self-illuminating, but some comment from Yours Truly will do no harm to amplify the contrast. 

Mr. Ham, I do sincerely hope to hear a response from you, as our radio conversation was cut so inappropriately short. In your followup, I desire that you address better the argument now placed before you, rather than the callous and tawdry evasion that you gave to the original questions. 

And best of regards to Dan, who led the charge and who has, with ultimate vigor, continued the civil discussion with Mr. Ham on his Twitter account. (https://twitter.com/danarel) I imagine the continued correspondences between us all should be enlightening. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Decrepitude

Here, at a quarter century, 
Does one shed youth and mantle age: 
Banish the fool, become the sage;
And soldier on in certainty?

Have I not lived and loved and lost? 
Are not the poems in my head 
So deep that they are interr├ęd? 
Have I not felt the flame and frost?

And victory I also know. 
Did I not live to see my name
Merit some modicum of fame
Before my coil shuffled so?

Of friendship did I play some part
Though always much to my surprise. 
My comrades met me in the eyes
And pierced together this weak heart.

So should a score and five years make
The feeling that I've lived an Age;
And as the birds sing i' th' cage
To whistle for a new life's sake?

The years have not me stricken dumb, 
Though, Fate does not display her hand.
I am compelled for love to stand, 
And see another sunrise come.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In Which I Answer 10 Questions from TodayChristian.net

Once again, gentle readers, I have come across a set of questions written by theists that are designed to . . . well, I suppose 'challenge atheists' would be the phrase, but in this case, the word is most certainly not suited to the action. It is often asked of me why I continue answering them when they are so transparently ineffective. The answer: the only way to prove to the author that they are answerable is to continue doing so, and not merely claim that they are. 

I hope you enjoy my responses and I encourage all free-thinkers to contribute on their various sites as well. I have been brief, as it seems they do not require seriously elongated answers to cover their rather base nuance. 





1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

 "Baby, I was born this way." Atheists, despite arguments to the contrary, don't come out of the closet: they come out of the womb. We are born tabula rasa (spiritually speaking). No one gives us a pre-natal Bible to peruse for answers before escaping our own ovarian Chateau d'If. In fact, if it weren't for the occasion that people bludgeon us with the idea of the god after we're born, it's certain we never would have conjured the same narrative in the same way for ourselves.

2.       What happens when we die?

 No idea. But to forego credit for an answer you don't have is infinitely more graceful than to claim irrefutable knowledge in the same circumstance, or to readily cling to a nonsensical answer for any number of selfish motivations, including comfort, to assauge personal fear, or to exert fear over others. I rather take to Mr. Clemens' bent on this one: "I was dead for billions of years before I was alive, and it didn't bother me in the least."

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

 I've answered this question before in my book. I hope no one will think me overly cheap to refer you to that. 

           If, when I die, my soul leaves my body and I am brought before god as he sits in judgment over all the doings of my life, my reaction will be highly premeditated. At one point in my much younger, less volatile existence, I would have been comforted in the deluded rationalization that god would understand precisely why I think the things I do, he would forgive me on account of the very real and evil doings of his followers, and my lack of faith—nay, my hell-bent fight against it—would be empathized with. He would open his loving arms to me, seeing the goodness of my struggle. That is what I used to think, but frankly, the epiphany is much more pronounced—to imply I was the one at fault, and I was the one who needed to be forgiven. If god is there, who allowed all this to happen in the first place, who idolized himself and performed his capricious masturbation of a divine rule over the world in a helter-skelter riot of laws, disaster, war and gross mandate, I would remember the millions of deaths, slaves, beatings, tortures, and capitulations—I would think of Eric Borges and Matthew Shepard, of David Kato and the children at Wedgwood Baptist Church; I would remember the babies who died from their herpetic mohels and corpses in hospitals at the stubborn behest of Christian Scientists; of abused children whose cries would never escape the confines of the confessional; of countless dying of AIDS for which he ultimately blamed the “debauchery” of innocents—and have merely three words for him. Three words only: “Hasa diga, eebowai."

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

We evolved our morality from an social-based evolutionary psychology. "The Golden Rule" was the underlying principle to the overall benefit of the group. It's simple enough to deduce from there -- if it's not, then no answer I give, however patiently explained, will change the mind of the reader. 

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Frankly, we're more "free" to murder and rape with god than we are without him. An atheist moral compass doesn't mean we answer to no one: it means we answer to each other. It is only when we are given divine license to commit obscene acts -- the command to commit genocide on the Amalekites, to wipe out the innocent town of Jericho, to forcibly impregnate the wife of your dead brother (in the case of Onan), to sacrifice your own child (Abraham, Jepthath, and others) -- can said acts be considered even imaginable, let alone moral.  

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

 Life is the wondrous search for meaning. If one comes to the end of their days and finds that their life had no meaning at all -- they have failed themselves, and no illusion of a god would have fixed that. We prescribe our own merit of existence. Besides which, the inverse assumption is that the meaning of life with god is servitude, adoration, and loyalty -- in essence, living for someone else. And when that life is over, the meaning of the afterlife is to spent eternity either in heaven doing much the same, or in hell regretting not having done. This does not sound like any meaning I would want to have stamped on my existence. 

7.       Where did the universe come from?

 See: Answer 2. 

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

 The ontological argument of one always fails when compared to the ontological arguments of another! (How Descartes would grimace.) Just because a person claims an experience to be personally true does not mean that that experience is true in reality. Here is a sneak peek at a section of a chapter that will be in a new book, 666, along with chapters given by Lawrence Krauss, Douglas Wilson, and others. 

The deflection of the teleological argument goes hand-in-hand with the rejection of the ontological argument, which has its roots in Anselm of Canterbury’s Proslogion and is refined in the works of Descartes, and essentially submits that if an idea exists in the mind, it exists in reality. The existential questions of this position notwithstanding, it would grieve theists to teeth-grinding to realize that by the same license we must agree upon the existence of leprechauns, dragons, tooth-fairies, Santa Claus, Balrogs, fauns, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So easily is the teleological argument razed.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I have separate views of all of them. Hitchens was the greatest rhetorician of his time. Dawkins argues from a biologically sound view of the universe. Harris approaches things in a distinctly neurological manner, which, while being rationally sound, can sometimes allow him to explore views in a nearly science-fiction manner, as the field moves closer to transhumanism and the potential powers of the brain are now being newly theorized. I've taken their work as more heavily inspiring in some cases, less so in others. More importantly, I'm not sure how this question has anything to do with the challenge to their claims or the claims of atheism as a field. 

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Not every society does have a religion. Czech Republic, Sweden, Austria, France, Norway, and Japan all have massive percentages of atheist population, some with openly atheist top-ranking members of government, some of which claim themselves to be secular nations entirely. Given their standards in some areas on a global level, e.g. education, crime rate, mortality rate, and others, it may be of some use to understand how their secularism affects their success as societies. Furthermore, if every society did have its own religion, they would all certainly be contradictory, misaligned, and likely hostile to one another, which wouldn't suggest the truth of a "god" at all but one of two conclusions: that they were all correct and many, many gods exist each claiming authorship of our universe and species, or that none of them were correct and all were born from the same primeval need to explain ourselves and planet without having the tools required. 

In reference to pre-modern societies having hugely dominant spiritual practices, it can only be reasserted that pre-modern humans were desperate for answers to the universe surrounding them. Having none, they theorized using the tools that were available. Humanity has progressed beyond these rudimentary observations and erroneous conclusions -- or rather, a large portion of it has. I shudder to think that I live in a nation outside of the eight mentioned above who are patiently waiting for the rest of us to catch up. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Answer to the Federal Appeals Court: Why the 9/11 "Cross" is Offensive

An article published yesterday on Fox News' website chronicled the current appeal on a case that was submitted by American Atheists in 2011 and was subsequently thrown out which concerned the right of the now infamous "cross" that remained from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to reside at the National September 11th Memorial Museum. In this article, we were informed that an appeals judge has given the plaintiffs until July 14th to submit legal briefings detailing as to how exactly the presentation of this cross was a "constitutional injury". 


(photo courtesy of Top Right News)


The question seemed easy enough to answer to Yours Truly, despite the controversy surrounding it. I thought since I had the afternoon free I might give a couple of the more obvious reasons that many of us find the inclusion of this piece of rubble in this museum worse than offensive -- reasons that the conservative media seems to conveniently forget. 

Namely, the presentation of the cross at the museum is an example of American credulity. It banners to every visitor who may come to see it that we live in a country that cannot tell the difference between the extraordinarily likely event of a cross-beam remaining intact after the demolition of a building that must have contained untold thousands of similar steel structures from divine artistic expression. It would be equally asinine to place a pancake bearing the face of Mother Mary behind a glass box in the same commemorative building. Legal and moral reasons aside, I am not a fan of advertising that kind of stupidity on a cultural level. If some people wish to think that this remarkably obvious coincidence is the work of the supernatural, by all means they may. But to symbolize it on a national level communicates openly (and wrongfully) that all American citizens share in that kind of fideism. 

Secondly, the cross suggests to those who see it that the event is a Christian event -- as though it was a psychotic attack on Christianity as opposed to a secular country, or that the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 were populated only by Christians instead of people of all kinds of religious and philosophical stripes. A cross-like shape remained in the rubble and Christians across the world rush to monopolize the grief on a tragedy that was the result of an attack on all varieties of Western idealism, not simply those obsessed with Christ. Beyond the fact that that kind of solipsism sends a message that is obviously separate from reality, I don't wish by my silence to endorse such an egotistic, amoral capitalism. As it would be impossible to accurately represent the faiths and philosophies of all the lives lost on that terrible day, the only fair response is to represent none of them. 

Thirdly, September 11th was the result of insane, dogmatic fervor. It was an event that, sans religion, would not have happened. To commemorate the slaughter of one religion's zeal with the icon of another equally destructive, detrimental faith seems to me to be a moral hypocrisy of the most nauseating kind. 

Finally (and perhaps most to the point), the National Memorial is in part funded by tax-payer money. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the idea of the separation of church and state as illuminated by the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (penned by Jefferson and Madison) are excellent precedents supporting the idea that the American citizen does not have to support any one else's ideology in the public square, and that Congress and the United States Government is forbidden from expressing support for any particular faith. If Congress or specific government agencies have allotted money to the National September 11th Memorial Museum in any amount, then they are supposed to have the full faith and trust of the American citizenry that it has been used for an equally representative platform. Much as it is a "Constitutional injury" for my money to fund the proliferation of Christian ideologies and junk science in public schools, so it is the same injury for said money to support the proliferation of Christian icons in a national memorial.  

This is the kind of reasoning that comes from simple understanding of First Amendment rights and an objective view on the subject at large. I have heard many arguments to the contrary but none that have convinced me on these specific criteria that, much less that the cross in the museum would be offensive, but that it would be remotely a good idea on an otherwise even playing field. The sooner that the conservative Right and the Christian fundamentalists in this country realize that their religion is just fine in their private lives and not to be blazoned as a symbol of a tragedy for which we all, and not just Christians, share, the sooner we will reach something of the level of religious sterility for which the Founding Fathers so strenuously fought. Those who still have qualms about that last thought would do well to send their objections to Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli and get back to me.    


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Twin-Sister of Religion, Selfishness, Rival in Crime and Falsehood

Hello, my friends. It would appear that my earlier prophecy of finding a topic on which to write has come to pass, and surprisingly one more personal than the epic clash of a war-torn Middle East or the whimsy of a stuffy Easter mass. Rather, I have been forced to introspect in a way that is about as comfortable as swimming through a pool of bleach and broken glass -- that is to say, evaluate the true source of my work and decide whether or not it comes from (as Percy Bysshe Shelley says in Canto V of his Queen Mab) that "twin-sister of religion, selfishness". The apparent wrongness of that accusation has been paramount to me since I began putting my thoughts and arguments into the public square, but the accusations of ego-masturbation and fiscal greed have surfaced voraciously enough from opinions about which I care and with enough frequency in the recent past that I feel a response is now necessary. 

In the preface of Oh, Your god!, I begin by elucidating my complete lack of title or credit in this argument -- that I am not an academic of religion in the mortar board-donning sense, but that all scholarship can be assumed to be created of three primary tenets: to read the work done on the subject, to think about said work, and then to talk or debate or contribute. This can be done by anybody, anywhere, and most often can be heard being done enthusiastically after a few pints in the back table of a random bar on a Wednesday. Once I had achieved this revelation (two years into my own college experience, as it were), I realized that contribution to the discussions worth having in our species was not only allowed, but it was a moral responsibility -- how could we live in a world where the collected knowledge of mankind exists in our pockets but relegate ourselves to ignorance on any of our most important topics? Not that I think or thought less of those who don't toss themselves into a debate the same way I and many of my friends do, but similarly, in a time when the tools are so readily available, I've never understood how people can resist the urge to do that very thing. 

And so in tandem with this revelation came the desperate need to contribute myself, to add my voice to a cause for which I thought was so terribly worth fighting -- the inanity and cruelty of faith. I had for years been reading the unparalleled rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens, seen the elegant, scientific arguments of Victor Stenger and Richard Dawkins, and had as well seen with my own eyes the more subtle but equally toxic effects of faith in an average, quotidian day. Since the book that came from these inspirations is itself the explanation of why the idea of faith is so terrible, it does the reader little good to regurgitate it here -- however, the need was so obviously there, the field so ripe for battle, that I was practically compelled to begin the clacking of the keys. 

When one sits down to write such a work, one doesn't think of best-sellerdom (at least, legitimately -- the odd, glancing joke of a National Book Award might fall in here and there). One doesn't think of fame or notoriety because the work is so engrossing. It would be impossible to complete anything resembling a compelling argument and at the same time be wistfully imagining your throngs of adoring fans waiting to greet you with social fellatio. Or, if I cannot speak that generally, I can speak so personally: thus it was not the case for myself. My eyes were blinded by the explosion of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, the conflagration of the World Trade Center, the immolation of a tube track in London, and the flare of pipe-bombs in Oslo. My ears were crammed with the screams of the children of Wedgewood Baptist Church, with the slow groans of perishing orphans at the hands of Mother Teresa denying them proper medicine, with the cries of murdered children of Christian Scientists as their parents sentenced them to death for the sake of "freedom of religion". Subsequently, as I wrote so fervidly against what appeared to me to be obvious evils, it never occurred to me that many would think that my verve came from purely selfish origins. 

With the release of Oh, Your god! came a release of another kind -- the catharsis in knowing that my work could be beneficial to others, that the effort one makes in crafting such a project served for something more than its own existence. Reviews began to come in, emails started pinging in my inbox, strangers struck up conversations with me by phone and street-corner. What began as words in my head took corporeal form and began to have an effect in reality. This served as an encouragement to double my efforts in forms of social media -- my Facebook became a sounding box as much as it was a social tool. A Twitter was developed solely for the reason of book promotion and thought discussion. But opening the debate in such a way also opens oneself, and then the darker work came to me. 

In a podcast interview I had given a couple of weeks ago for the new group UpStartsUS, I was asked what the most important trait was required to be a writer in my field. I explained that my most invaluable tool was a thick skin, to learn whose opinions matter and whose don't, because undoubtedly people will disagree with you in the most volatile manners. But I did not think that argumentum ad hominem would spring from some of my closest friends nor from what appeared to me to be purely innocuous pursuits. 

Only a couple of weeks ago, a very, very dear friend whom I love as a father demanded via Facebook message that I call him as he "was pissed", which I promptly did. A barrage of attacks upon my character then ensued -- that I "just loved to watch my followers go crazy whenever I post something", that I "just lived to piss other people off", that everything I did "was about [myself] and that [I] didn't give a fuck about the world or peace or whatever." I tell you, gentle readers, my type of fury is an uncorked champagne bottle -- hard to incite but explosive when tapped. I admit with shame that I came unglued and bellowed at this friend I love so much, because I had so quickly and unexpectedly been wounded to the core, completely blind-sided by an intelligent man whose opinion I cared about, and made to respond to heinous accusations of my own personality when I had done nothing but endeavored to fight against a truly terrible threat. Suddenly, to him, this wasn't about the debate, my beloved conversation to which I desperately wanted to contribute. No, to him it was about my own ego, my own illusion of significance. Forty solid minutes of out-of-character, uncontrolled berating on both our parts left the end of the phone call hollow, numbing, and utterly heart-breaking. We are still friends and love each other as much as we ever did, but that conversation definitely took from me some intangible thing that I am not sure how to replace.

As though this incident was the proverbial straw, the weight of the camel slowly began to press against me. Snide remarks from social media merely within the last two days have grown more irksome. Just yesterday, at discovering that the Kindle version of Oh, Your god! was the second-best selling atheism book in the United Kingdom, just behind the monumental The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (this sales position has since come down a bit, as arguably it should have done), I posted a thank you and a screen shot of our books on the best-selling list together to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page, thanking Mr. Dawkins and the RDFRS for their inspiration in my work and for the world-wide work they do for advancing secularism and reason. I couldn't have found my thanks or my reason for posting them more clear, but was immediately commented by someone that I was using the massive following of the RDFRS Facebook page as free advertising for my work. I indulged in one single comment, explaining that wasn't my intention, and was again met with an accusation of tawdry selfishness. Rather than continue the argument, as was typically my wont, I took the post down. If ever I come across Mr. Dawkins' email address, I will thank him personally and quietly. 

This morning, after posting on my Twitter a promotion for my book and getting some forty-two retweets, I was met with a reply that I was a "classic career atheist" and that I was "making money from good causes". Again, I was hurt in the most irrational of ways -- a stranger, likely a troll of some kind (though he has, even since the posting of this blog, genuinely apologized), makes one flippant remark about my ethics and rather than disregard it, I had a slight emotional reaction. For all my words above and the general grasp of empathy you must embody, dear reader, it cannot seem to me that I have so missed the mark of my work that I seem to be money-grubbing, self-important egomaniac looking to rub a few quarters together at the expense of a civilized revolution. I began with the best of intentions which I still harbor, and which I instill in my current work on my chapter in 666. 

So, rather than letting this post be a banner of reflection and an expression of insult as it can so easy be, instead I am creating it with the purpose of clarification, an official statement of my person and my intent meant purely for my detractors and not for my supporters. My work speaks for itself, and so do I. I will not and cannot be compartmentalized to some inane corner of public opinion that, in despite of all evidence to the contrary, thinks of me as self-serving. I live in a world where holy liars, frauds, molesters, thieves, murderers, autocrats, and general douchebags exert power and punishment over innocent people because their faith gives them license to do it. In this world do we see continually shifting borders, the burned corpses of children outside bakeries in Aleppo, decimated health clinics, children on fire in ditches in Nigeria (I'm sorry, did I write "children"? I meant "witches".), and countless other atrocities because, on our meager planet, we are forced to acquiesce to someone else's imaginary friend. No, gentle readers, I will absolutely not engage my life against this kind of reckless stupidity and be called to task for working for myself. Absolutely not will I be accused of selfish demagogy when I make a Facebook post denouncing the evils of a blatant disregard for the separation of church and state, or the brutal banality of disavowed marriages, thrwarted scientific curriculum, or mass shootings from a person who says without a hint of irony that "[g]od told him to do it." 

If the clear and unadulterated obscenity of faith and its actions or my arguments are not yet clear to you, I would tell you to read my book. Steal it, please, if you would -- I am sure somewhere on the internet is there is a website to download the .pdf for free. Heaven forbid you think I am only trying to make some money off of you. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On My Current and Upcoming Work

Hello, gentle readers. 

Many of you have probably noticed an absence of work on this page for the last couple of months. I am afraid I cannot guarantee that will soon change. I've been lacking in my usual verve to put fingers to keys due to a number of distractions. And while the subject of religion typically galvanizes me with the same desperate energy as filled Winston when he began with April 4th, 1984, I admit that other works in the same subject have been taking up both hours and seconds of a life too short. 

For those who are kind and indulgent enough to care, a new book bearing my name will be released in February of next year. A kind Englishman came up with what I found to be a brilliant idea: to take six topics and throw them into the eager, snapping jaws of six atheists and six theists, and through debating chapters allow the reader to peruse the arguments from both sides simultaneously -- appropriately titled 666, I was humbled and grateful to be asked to contribute a chapter on "The Philosophy of Atheism", on which I am currently working. The pressure is on, gentle reader, as the other names to light this theological marquee are made of far greater foot-candles! Also contributing chapters will be the best-selling and renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of book and lecture fame, who recently was featured in the documentary The Unbelievers alongside Richard Dawkins, with whom he has worked extensively. As well, Richard Carrier of outstanding academic distinction, Colin Humphreys, and William J. Abraham are all giving chapters to this engaging work, along with several others. As I am now in something of the ring with heavy-weights, my meager chapter is being given the bulk of my attention, and I fear that any less will make it unworthy of the same ink as these scholars -- though even at my best, it may well fall short. So indeed our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt. Giving a voice to the fight against theistic delusion is undoubtedly a good that might be won. 

As well, I am directing The History Boys in Northwest Montana -- a play that is not a light academic pursuit for those are are familiar with it. In tandem is my performance as Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and my due diligence as an actor requires that I simply not let the old boy down. Beyond which, the Flathead Valley in the summer is simply a vision -- replete with glacial rivers and lakes, unparalleled sunshine and breeze, and a chock of my oldest friends all gathered -- the thought of blogging even on the most provocative of topics somehow feels to be wearing. 

All this, of course, precedes what will become the greatest of all time-sucks, which is my commencement of study as a Master of Arts in Central Washington University in late August. How I will ever find time to write a thing between teaching and class-work, I'll never know. 

This is not to be a laundry list of excuses as I hope to continue this page in as good of form as I can in the coming months. Perhaps it is merely a soft plea, gentle reader, to those who have been most ardent in expressing claims on my opinions on various current events, that should the water hole be slightly dry, I'm sure that some thunderous storm will soon break and open a torrent of words -- I can, after all, only contain myself for so long, should the right catalyst strike me. 

All the best, my friends.