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Just What, Exactly, Is Atheism? November 21, 2012 08:58 33 Comments

Ever since I brought the question of Atheism Plus to this blog, my being, my very core, has been shattered, and every granule remaining from the devastating destruction is poised, waiting on the brink to turn on its fellow granules and wage all-out total war in an effort to prove what is and what is not.  In other, less grandiose, and, let's face it, false words, the response to the blog, and in turn the responses I was spurned to write, lit a spark of inquiry in my sunken chest - what exactly "comes with" atheism?  What's bundled in with the purchase of every Deity Denial?  When I order a Godless #7, do I get fries or slaw?

As many of the anti-Atheism+ folks were adamant to point out, "atheism" itself isn't really a movement.  It's not really anything.  I'm sure I'm paraphrasing dozens of more witty and urbane folk, but atheism is a system of belief the same way not-boxing is a sport of kings, being quiet is a genre of music, and "off" is a television channel.

 

Or like this sparkly thing is a vampire. (Source: allthingsd.com)

In its simplest, purest form, the kind of crystal clear Walter White would cook up, atheism means the disbelief in a "god," a supernatural force that is creator and governor over human souls.  I don't even like using the word "disbelief" there; to me its more of an acknowledgement of a fact of the world.  Facts don't require belief or disbelief.  I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I could believe all I want that I don't have a wart on my hand, but that's not going to change the fact that I either need to see a dermatologist or buy some gloves.

But even the bit about what TYPE of god is unnecessary, if we want to simplify further.  To the atheist, there are NO gods, not deist types who created the infinite Multiverse, fine-tuned the cosmic dials of physics and chemistry, and then floated away to dick around on Xbox.  No theist types who take a serious vested interest in EVERY SINGLE prayer, no matter how contradictory they may be to EVERY OTHER prayer.  No multi-teired gods that are all part of the same god, nothing like that.

 

Nope, not even Thor. (Source: 1upcollectibles.com)

That's it.  End of definition.  This is what the anti-plus folks were arguing - lumping together a bunch of ideals and goals and shared viewpoints on top of a word that means something very simple is unnecessary.  It was the same reaction when the whole hullabaloo about "brights" came up.  A person could be an atheist and have VERY different opinions on a multitude of issues.  Hell, and atheist could strongly believe in ghosts, cryptozoological creatures, and The Secret - they'd still be an atheist if none of those things fell under the billowy veil of "god."

I also feel it is unnecessary to define what type of god "atheism" rejects, but for the opposite reason.  For me, atheism comes with a whole boatload more.  Right of the bat, being an atheist also comes with a denial of most, if not all, of the world of the "supernatural."  To me, there's just as much evidence for a god as there is for a ghost.  These people fall into the realm of the "Spiritual But Not Religious," a group that deserves its own space on this blog for the tarring-and-feathering I feel it oh so justly deserves.

To me, atheism comes with an overwhelming appreciation for science, especially the life sciences of evolutionary biology that better explain our place on this odd little rock better than any tattered old parchment.  For most it seems like a thorough understanding of evolution by natural selection LEADS to the denial of the supernatural and of creator gods.  I admit - I was handed The God Delusion before The Selfish Gene and The Greatest Show on Earth, but it was actually reading an interview with Douglas Adams, published posthumously in the tragically brilliant collection The Salmon of Doubt that began my lust for knowledge on how we fit in here and why that's a better offering than the teachings of religion.  I've yet to meet an atheist that is also a denier of evolution, or a proponent of the young-Earth theory.  I'm not saying they don't exist, but to me, they just seem to go hand-in-hand.

 

Read This! But only after reading everything else the man wrote, and only then if you're prepared to cry like a little girl. (Source: neoseeker.com)

When you deny the existence of a creator god, and, depending on the god or gods, the existence of an afterlife, the crushing, almost paralyzingly so, realization that THIS IS IT comes with.  Again, I'm not saying there aren't atheists that may simultaneously believe in zero gods while also believing in the eternal soul or reincarnation or alternate planes of existence or some such bullwonky, but I've yet to encounter him or her.  This too seems to be an atheism package deal.  No gods = this life is it.  The odds stacked against one unique little swimmer uniting with the warm orb and resulting in the exact genetic code for ME is so astronomically huge that one is simply bowled over by how appreciative I, and all of us, should be every single day that we even made it, when the slightest alteration in the plan could have resulted in anyone else.  Or no one at all!  Of course, it's hard to live constantly in awe and appreciation of existence itself - think about it too long and you have to sit down with a glass of water.

 

Or, preferably, something stronger. (Source: realfoodtraveler.com)

I find the same thing happens if I try to think about what would existence be like if we had evolved to work in the world of atoms, and we could see that every object is mostly empty space.  Or what if we had evolved to perceive time several times slower than we do today.    OR what if another species elsewhere on the planet, separate and secluded, had developed consciousness at the same rate as humans!

 

Do NOT think about this stuff while operating heavy machinery. (Source: i.com)

From this consciousness-raising view of the universe and our tiny place in it, a whole slew of other stuff seems to follow.  Atheists seem to be in favor of a woman's right to choose.  They seem to be tolerant of the decision to let go of life in situations in which assisted suicide would be preferable to prolonged suffering.  I could go on, but it seems so much simpler to connect atheism with humanism, because it looks a whole lot like the two go hand in hand.  But there's an aspect of humanism that I personally feel goes right along with the entire atheism caboodle but somehow missed the kit for a whole lot of non-believing folk I've met, and that's personal responsibility - specifically, the kind of personal responsibility that would be labelled as "Libertarianism" in the political sphere.  Why?  Well, that's a question for next time, isn't it?  I've got to go drink whiskey and contemplate our place in the universe.  I expect to find all of zero answers.


"Every Day is an Atheist Holiday" - Please Take My Money November 13, 2012 22:38 1 Comment

 

I didn't think one could top the cover of "God, No!," with his big smirking punum, but they did it, goddamn it! (Source: bookword.com.au)

Penn Jillette's New Book Drops ... Yesterday!

Hot on the heels of his bestseller "God, No! - Signs You Already May Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales" comes another book of taller tales from the taller magical member of the duo Penn and Teller.  And I mean hot - that last book only came out a year ago!  In the midst of what I'm sure is a very busy schedule, Penn Jillette has sat down with The Washington Times' Kevin Kelly for an interview on his new book, the election, libertarianism, and more.

Not much to this blog entry, really.  Just a heads up to go out and grab this book - I sure will be.  "God, No!" was an amazing read - often hilarious, but just as often poignant to the point of stirring tears.  And all it was was a collection of goofball stories from one of the world's biggest.  I've had the pleasure of hearing him tell a few tales in person, and trust me - he's a big cuddly weaver of words.  I'm sure "Atheist Holiday" will be just as pleasing.  The best part? He's finally allowed to talk about his time on Celebrity Apprentice.  Trust me - some of the stories I've already heard, if they made it into this book, make it a MUST BUY.

The big picture up there will take you to Amazon.com, as will that link there, if you want to grab yourself a copy.  And you can read Penn's interview here.


Those Who Are Fed Tripe Often Regurgitate It August 26, 2012 19:29 7 Comments

A long while ago [and I apologize for a) the lengthy delay and 2) the somewhat dated topic of this entry] I talked about how people responded to the tragedy in Colorado, about how so many were ready to politicize the events and use them as reasoning to support their own line of thinking.  As much as I no longer want to talk about Aurora, and simply wish to wait for the day when it’s ok to make jokes about it so we can all heal and move on, I’ve got to address one more thing, and it concerns the shooter.  I refuse to type his name, as I feel ANY press about this “man,” any mention, negative or, goodness forbid, positive, is simply feeding into what he desired from this attack, even this late in the "game."  And, looking at it, it’s not even about him.  It’s about people’s response to him, once again.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="544"] Yea.... this again. Still talking about this. (Source: NBC 9 News)[/caption]

Two or three days after the attack, I saw that a friend of mine had commented on something she had seen on her Facebook.  A friend, or a friend of a friend, or a page a friend liked, who knows – somebody had posted an image of the shooter’s match.com profile.  Whoever shared this, or, more likely, whoever created this image for sharing, was prominently concerned with pointing out that under “Faith,” the attacker had selected “agnostic.”  Of course, the facebook post went on to connect the dots in the most slippery of slopes (to mix my metaphors, with your permission), creating the tenuous bridge (ooh, there's a third one!) from agnosticism to mass murderer.  If you are reading this, I’m sure you agree – what an awful, ignorant, hurtful, and downright mean thing to do.  It shouldn’t have to be said, or typed, or thought – many, many people who proclaim themselves as nonbelievers on their dating website profiles do not harbor desires and plans to commit mass murder.  Myself included (lllllllladies).

But it didn’t start there, of course not.  One person on Facebook didn’t find the shooter’s match.com profile, notice his particulars, and begin espousing the moral decay of all nonbelievers.  It started, as it does, with the media.  Astonishingly, my searches have lead to TMZ (of all places!) as the first to reveal the image of his dating profile.  TMZ – the stalwart journalists who are first on the scene if Morgan Freeman farts in public or Lindsay Lohan's camel toe returns from vacation are also the first to expose the psyche of killers.  If it wasn’t them, it was surely someone else, because I also saw “reporting” of this information on at least one of several 24-hour news networks.  And, as strange as it feels to do so, this is where I have to give it to TMZ: their slant on the “news” of this profile wasn’t trying to put together the pieces of an evil mind, but rather, in true sound-bite, ADHD entertainment news magazine style, “The aurora shooter – BOYFRIEND MATERIAL?! We spoke to one girl who was FRE-EAKED OUT when she saw THIS match!”  Kudos.  Kudos for being predictably stupid and then letting it drop, because, hey, Angelina Jolie just got ketchup on her shirt.

No, of course the head-shaking and “tsk, tsk”-ing must be pointed at the news networks, where rampant speculation and wild generalization are king and queen of a court of supposition and gossip.  When did this happen?  Did no one have the rationality to stand up and say “this is not news? This - what the killer had for breakfast, what he listed as his faith on his dating website, his major in college – this is not information that helps the public!”  No.  And why would they? They’ve got a full day of airtime to fill, and there’s no better way to do so than to spill the juicy details of a monster.

And we eat it up! We devour it en masse! Why? Is it the sick pleasure of TMZ and Entertainment Tonight times 1000? Is it the airing of dirty laundry, and the smell is that much more enticing because this particular laundry is so much dirtier than the rest?  I’d like to believe that within us all there’s a quest to understand the workings of the mind, and when we encounter one so clearly damaged as that of the Aurora shooter, we are eager to put on our Sherlock Holmes hat and our Sigmund Freud glasses and play combination detective/psycho-analysist, but I don’t think that’s it.  Sure, many would tell you that it’s important to understand what sort of man does this, perhaps in an effort to prevent atrocities like this one before they start.  That’s all well and good, and a noble effort, but the people watching Fox News AREN’T DOING THAT.  The people who truly are analyzing this man and this situation have that information already.  Once again, all the media is doing when it shares trivial information like the killer’s announced faith is giving the public, a public with no use for such information, something interesting to one-up each other with at the water-cooler.  And when the media makes the word “agnostic” the focus of an hour-long segment of “news?” That will lead to the frantic Facebookery of the scared and dogmatic, calling for all to recognize the evils of nonbelief.  It's the same reaction as when the cops find Grand Theft Auto 4 in the killer's apartment, except that dubious link between violent video games and real violent behavior at least SOUDNS rational on paper (it doesn't, and there's no evidence there, but that's for a different time on a different blog entirely. DO NOT get me started.).

And this is what has happened.  Now, if one searches for the aurora shooter + agnostic, the results aren’t news. The TMZ article is still up (search for it if you like, but I refuse to link to it), but no one else is “reporting” it.  People are simply using this “information” to bolster their claims that not believing in god (their god, of course) leads to the destruction of society.

Actually, that’s not true.  You won’t find much of that if you search aurora shooter + agnostic.  You’ll only find the bulk of the truly reactionary and bigoted codswallop if you search aurora shooter + atheist.  And that leap is disgusting.  Not because I feel some sort of revulsion at atheists being grouped with agnostics, of course not (although I do believe that all agnostics are atheists, but that’s, again, a topic for another time.).  No, it’s that these demagogues, these hate-mongers, these fanners of the flames felt the need to twist the “facts” even further: we won’t convince nearly as many people that this monster killed those people because he was a heathen if we use the word he used – agnostic!  Everyone knows that’s the nice version.  Call him an atheist!  That gets like-minded people’s blood boiling!

And you can see it.  I won’t link to it, because it doesn’t deserve to be viewed by anyone, but there’s one of probably many YouTube videos showing images of the shooter, his dating profile, and white text stating that “The unbelievers are at it again! This is the agnostic _____ ______. Please pray for the families suffering at the hands of agnostic / atheist _____ ______.”  Of course, no high-and-mighty YouTube video focusing on an “atheist” would be complete without 4 minutes of demonic sounds over the entire thing.  But the worst part? Over half of the video is someone’s cell phone footage from the lobby of the Aurora movie theater.  And I’m sure this crass, tasteless video worked – I’m sure at least one trusting soul heard the demon noises, watched the footage, saw the pictures of the killer next to the words “agnostic” and “atheist,” and is now convinced of our sinful, ethically-bankrupt ways.

It simply comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to call oneself agnostic or an atheist.  For most of us, this way of living is tied to an extremely humanistic approach to life – YOLO, as the kids are saying (and I do hope they sincerely mean it and we get a new wave of young, rational thinkers).  Someone who truly thinks that this is all we get, and this world and this life are worth cherishing every moment, would not, could not pull that trigger. Heck, most of us are against the death penalty for the most evil men on the planet.  Richard Dawkins put it succinctly in his Twitter feed during a recent debate with Christian academic John Lennox.

John Lennox, in all seriousness, thought he could get away with the old "Stalin was an atheist, therefore . . . " trick.
The wind-up... (Source: Twitter, Richard Dawkins)
Not doubting the fact. Stalin was an atheist. Problem lies in the "therefore". Stalin was short man with moustache, therefore mass murderer
...and he strikes him out. (Source: Twitter, Richard Dawkins

The same goes for the Aurora shooter.  The man may be an agnostic or an atheist.
A) That doesn’t matter, as there are no tenets within either belief system (which they’re not, they’re not belief systems, but I can’ t think of another thing to call them) that would lead to mass murder BECAUSE there are no tenets to dogmatically obey. But more importantly,
B) all the spreading of that information does is ferment distrust and bigotry and hate.  It’s the only result.  No one is taking the information “_____ ______ called himself an agnostic on his match.com profile” and doing anything helpful or worthwhile with it, and if they are, they certainly didn’t first hear said information from the news.

Thankfully, there are already dozens of healthy responses from rational free-thinkers in response to these outlandish claims.  Folks were quick to jump on the internet and fend of these merit-less attacks.  However, defense is all we should be striving for in this situation.  In the same vein as last week, when I asked that we not use atrocities and tragedies that are wounds so freshly exposed upon the body of the nation as a platform to bolster our particular idea of secularism and logic, so should we not use the faith or mentality of those who commit such crimes as a weapon in our armory of argument.  Articles like this, in which the author blames a Christian upbringing for the Aurora shooting, are just as ugly.  Yes, you can call out stupidity and hypocrisy when people like Rick Warren say things like "When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it,” (his claim that, not only atheism, but EVOLUTION being taught in schools led to Aurora), but then say nothing when, say, the shooter in Oslo is revealed to be an anti-Muslim Christian extremist.  By all means, strike back at the ignorant and hurtful statements blurted every day by fear-mongering bigots.  But fighting fire with fire will get both sides burned.

So I’m not mad or upset when I see people on Facebook share things like “Aurora Shooter – Agnostic!” followed by dozens of comments about how correlation is causation.  These people aren’t psychiatrists, they’re not even truly interested in _____ ______.   They’ve been fed garbage by people looking for the quickest sensationalist item they can shove in front of us, and we can’t blame them for eating it. They, like all of us, are scared, looking for an easy answer to the question of why such evil can be committed, and by whom.  But there are no easy answers, at least, not early enough.  For now, it has to be enough to say, “so-and-so is just another madman, and I’ll speak no more about him.”

Honestly.  I hope not to speak about him again.  Thanks for getting through all of that.  As a reward, here’s a puppy.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="612"] A different puppy. For you. (Source: imgur)[/caption]

 


See, In That Foxhole? There They Are August 15, 2012 16:48 4 Comments

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="604"] A chart from the MAAF detailing Department of Defense data concerning the ratio of soldiers to chaplains of said soldier's denomination (Source: Well, it says right in the image, doesn't it?)[/caption]

Study of DoD Reports Shows Significant Atheist Military Population

The MAAF (Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers) has compiled the data from official Department of Defense reports that atheists comprise a larger military population than any non-Christian denomination. So, right of the bat, you can knock that whole "no atheists in foxholes" thing into a cocked hat.  The MAAF goes on to show that this large population has absolutely zero chaplains supporting it.  As I'm not a member of any military organization, I'm not sure what a chaplain does outside of provide spiritual support for a group, so I've got to ask - do we need 'em?  Seriously, if you're an atheist and in the military, please comment and let us know if nontheist chaplains are something you guys want.  The big thing I took away from this article? There's a Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers! Right on, guys.  You can check out their study here, and explore the rest of their site too.

As always, please visit the main site to grab yourself some nifty threads.  We hope to have an appropriate design for all of you freethinkers in foxholes very soon!