Saturday, December 15, 2012

What is wrong with people?

Haven't written in a while but in the light of two tragedies I felt it time.

One was near my home in Connecticut where a mentally ill man shot and  killed a few dozen people in an elementary school. Another happened across the globe in China where another mentally ill man stabbed a few dozen people in an elementary school, fortunately not fatally.

This has sparked debate about gun control and prayer and wearing the school colors on Monday, none of which do a thing.

Weapons do not cause tragedies. People's choices cause tragedies.

Prayer cannot stop a bullet, a knife, a sick man, or the suffering and physical/financial loss the family of a murdered or wounded child faces.

Wearing school colors is just plain silly.

The real cause of these tragedies is that people with untreated or poorly managed illnesses came to the point where this sort of thing seemed to be a good idea. They felt desperate, they felt dispensable.

If we all agree that everyone being healthy is for the public good, then why is it easier to get a firearm than mental health services?

Want to do something? Here's three ideas.
  1. Instead of wearing blue and yellow on Monday, donate the money you would have spent on the outfit to the NIMH. Put it to better use than a showy display of empty compassion designed to make you feel good, not the ones who truly need it.
  2. Lobby your politicians to come up with a health care option for all Americans that includes comprehensive mental health care. Even if the policy they end up with is not exactly what they want, it can be fine-tuned down the road. Get the services in place now.
  3. When you see mentally ill people, treat them with respect. Don't laugh at their antics as if it was a sitcom for your entertainment. Don't pity them, either. They are people in a worse way than you, and deserve your admiration and merit the best we as a society has to offer.
Let's stop the next insane attacker before they become one.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Aliens are cool

Let's talk about aliens.

Who hasn't wondered if we are alone or not? With the vastness of space, it is entirely possible that other intelligible life we'd recognize exists. I can't say it does, but I can't say it doesn't.

Question is, do I believe in aliens visiting Earth? And I can say I don't really believe that.

I base that belief in the realization that the accounts I have heard are not terribly convincing. A lot of really poor accounts does not snowball into a solid argument, you just end up with a lot of slush. A stack of baloney never becomes a steak.

I also consider the distances that would have to be traveled to get here, and the scope of such a trip would surely mean that we'd need to face an alien way more advanced than us, and why would they then want to engage us? To eat us? To enslave us? Possibly. But it seems like it would take a lot of resources to send sufficient aliens here to do that, resources better spent on developing their own technology to more cheaply solve the problem they'd need us for.

I think it's really cool to think about aliens out there, and maybe visiting Earth, but it's fantasy. I know it isn't a realistic thing. It's illogical, the personal accounts do not compel me, and there's no reason to believe in it without better proof than the hearsay we get. Not saying it is impossible, just highly improbable.

Do you agree with my viewpoint? I think you probably do, more or less.

The doubt I hold in alien visits is identical to the doubt I hold in supernatural deities. It's fun to imagine in a fictional context, but it's pointless to accept as truth because there is no evidence to elevate it from a neat idea to a serious proposal.

But what if I am wrong, and this god I don't believe in punishes me?

And what if you don't see the aliens coming, and they eat you?

But you are confident the aliens aren't coming, aren't you? You don't really fear that. You can't be bothered. It's science fiction. It's fantasy.

If you can't be bothered to live every day in fear of joining an imminent alien buffet, then why do you bother with the equally pointless concern as to whether you are pleasing the god you've only heard about?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Atheism Is Not A Religion

A great video on YouTube channel 43alley - "Why Atheism is Not a Religion (A Ham-fisted Explanation)"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vote for a WHAT?

An interesting article on NPR's website yesterday explores why people distrust atheists. It might not be as in-depth as I'd prefer, but it is good to see mainstream media talking about this.

I agree with the closing premise wholeheartedly.  We cannot stay in the closet and hide from the world. We need to show the more meek among us that it's ok to be yourself. And I concur with the author that when more atheists are seen as good people with a moral sense and are contributors to society, the "immoral atheist" lie will slowly evaporate.

What do you think? Are there other reasons to distrust atheists we need to discuss? What else can be done to turn this negative feeling around? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do Atheists Hate God? Do You Hate Dog?

Here's another claim leveled against atheists - we hate God.

Let's say I am walking through the park and we meet, and we say hi. I ask you what you think of my dog. You tell me you don't see any dog. I counter, no, I am walking my dog. You shake your head and say no, there's no dog here. To that, I assert that the dog is invisible. You then tell me you don't believe I have a dog.

When I then moan, "You hate my dog!", am I making any sense? How can you hate a dog you don't even think exists?

Now, plenty of people hate Barney the Dinosaur or Harry Potter. But you can't actually hate them. They are "real" in the imaginations of a lot of people, but they don't actually exist, like a dog does. What you really hate, or love for that matter, is the idea of Barney or Harry, the fictional universe in which they dwell and their unique place in it, and perhaps in the minds of others who also imagine them to be real. You can't really hate Barney; you can only hate the concept of Barney.

To be fair, the concept of the God of the Bible, as one example, is not very appealing to me. I don't think what's written there about God is particularly flattering. I personally wouldn't like the guy if he was my neighbor. But that's one giant "if".

Because I don't have any motivation or reason to believe this, or any, god is real in any sense outside the imagination of numerous people, I don't have any motivation or reason to hate him or her.

I can't hate your god any more than you can hate the Monster In The Closet your child needs you to check before bed. Closet monsters are a pain in the ass, they are not part of how you wish the growing-up process should be, but there's your kid scared to death of something that you know full well is imaginary, and you have to deal with it.

If you believe your child and agree there might be a monster, you might have reason to hate it. But so long as we do not believe in the imaginary thing which another person is so damn sure exists, we are not capable of hating it.

We can hate that the poor tot can't sleep. We can hate that getting from child to adult has to be so hard. But we cannot hate what we believe is not real.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why do you hate me?

The statistics are too familiar. Atheists are less appealing than homosexuals and Muslims in the American public eye. So I often ask myself, why do people hate me so much? Here's a partial list of reasons I have seen, and my reactions and comments.

1. Atheism = Communism

This one is just baseless. It has its roots in McCarthyism, where being American meant not being even remotely linked to the Communist movement, and Communism often is associated with atheism. But it is associated erroneously. Yes, 20th century Communist regimes were anti-religion, but that was only to remove the strength of will the people might gain from it. Atheist capitalists are as plentiful percentage-wise as capitalists overall. There is nothing in your belief in a god that determines whether you prefer capitalism or communism. It's just a silly proposition, and people need to recognize it.

2. Atheists Destroy Religious Traditions

Well, this depends on the traditions we are talking about. If we are talking about choosing Christmas as a federal holiday for all, well that's just a date on a calendar. It doesn't really favor Christianity, it is the same holiday for everyone. No one is harmed by this. We can argue whether federal holidays like Christmas, Memorial Day and Labor Day are really worthwhile as a whole, but there's nothing in the federal Christmas holiday itself that hurts anyone.

The fact that during November and December you can't go into a store without being inundated with Christian and Christian-inspired imagery, that's not even actual harm. Private businesses can feel free to decorate as they like. Private homes too, so long as they do not violate any other laws or neighborhood agreements in the process. People can opt not to patronize a business if they disagree with the views the business communicates, so there's no problem there.

If we are talking about governmental advocacy of religion, there's a different thing. A standing Christian display in a school, a courthouse, or a public park establishes a religious preference for that government, and the first amendment does not allow that.

Any tradition of a government which lends support to a specific or general religious view is neither a legal nor a moral tradition.

This does not stop a religious person from praying before an exam in school. This does not stop a group of religious people from convening on public property. That's not what anyone's after. But actions by a government or its representatives which discriminate on the basis of religion, however ecumenically the actions might be intended, are not ok.

3. Atheism Hurts The Faithful

If atheists can show they live morally-grounded lives and are happy with their freedom from the arbitrary rule of a deity, what does that say about the religious? Does it mean the religious are stupid? Does it mean their parents taught them poorly? Aren't atheists, by their existence, insulting and eroding the institution of faith mankind has enjoyed?

If my being the way I am shakes your faith, maybe your faith is weak or misplaced. If it did not prepare you to deal with a person like me, perhaps it is not me who is faulty, but the ideas you hold.

And my parents taught me a lot of things that used to be relevant but are no longer important or even true. That is how it works. (I can get a TV to come in great with a shotgun ariel, for one, but old-fashioned UHF broadcasting is no more.) But also how the unknowns were filled in - I was taught by traditional values, but then I formed my own opinion. Parents teach children the best they can, but no child should accept every word of their parents as unerringly true.

If being religious works for you, I'm happy for you. Your believing in a god does not hurt me at all, unless you let it. And I would fight for your right to believe.

But if seeing atheists makes you question your faith, maybe it is your faith that is the problem.

Well, that's just a short list. I'd love to hear other ideas about why atheists are reviled. Feel free to comment.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


What have we learned from the 2012 presidential election?

Fringe people are scary.

Women should not be kept in binders.

Hurricanes have a liberal bias.

120 million people - roughly 80% of the eligible voters - went to the polls. That's 4 1/2 times as many people who go to Six Flags parks in a year.

The Gregory Brothers do a fine job auto-tuning the debates.

Epistemic closure is a real thing, even if you don't believe it is.

The Republicans faltered despite being right about the personal invasiveness of Democratic economics, but they were wrong about the personal invasiveness of their own social views. And people would rather risk economic struggle than submit to social authoritarianism, if there has to be a choice.

All the people who called Obama a Muslim extremist socialist a few days ago have been commenting on the weather and the nice songs they heard on the radio today.

And above all, if you claim you believe that your God intends rape as a means of procreation, you aren't getting elected anymore. People are just beginning to see the sickness in religion. We will see how it goes in the year to come.

We now have a second-term black president who is in favor of gay marriage. Is it too much to hope for groundbreaking changes in society's attitude toward atheists in the next four years?

Because we are not fringe people, really. We are not scary. We're almost exactly like the rest of them.