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We Are All Born Theists

Born Atheists

 

There is a belief that many atheists have that, as this meme states, “we are all born atheists until someone starts telling us lies”.  This statement is wrong on several levels.

First, it assumes that atheism does not have to be taught. As someone who has raised two atheist children, I can state that it is learned. Children ask questions and we provide answers from an atheist perspective.  We provide books and shows that are in line with atheist beliefs.  Children do not somehow magically come up with atheist beliefs.  They are learned.

Second, I would argue that if left to their own devices, the vast majority of children (possibly all), would wind up with some sort of theistic beliefs.  Why? Because we are naturally made to look for personal agents in explaining mysteries.  From spooks romping in the house when hearing strange noises at night, to seeing the hand of God when something goes unexpectedly and importantly right.  Or wrong.

And why are we naturally inclined to do this?  There are several reasons.

First, we are made to be curious. We want to know.  We do not like mysteries, so much so that we prefer bad explanations to just not knowing.  And this curiosity extends beyond just wanting to know the how, but also the why and why now.

For example (caveat here, I read this many years ago and may have some details wrong, but the basic story and idea is accurate), I read of an African village where a hut collapsed killing the children inside it. The villagers put it down the father having angered the ancestral spirits.  When an anthropologist pointed out that termites had infested the wood, the villagers said we know, but that doesn’t explain why it collapsed then when the children were inside and not before or after.

Second, we are pattern seekers.  We look for relationships and patterns everywhere, and find them. Even when they don’t exist.  And often, whether they actually exist or not is kangaroo-island-gatewaynot the most important thing in how satisfying people find such patterns.

Which brings me to third, there is a great deal of life that we cannot control.  Weather is a good example, having just lived through a hurricane.  Or fires such as the ones burning California. And then there are car accidents, illnesses, and other anxiety producing events. We do not like not being in control and the potential victim of forces we cannot influence.  And so, in patterns, we find ways to influence events out of our control.  Or to explain them.

Fourth, consider what we learn as infants; someone is taking care of us and doing things. Often the answer to why things happen is because our parents or other adults and individuals are doing it.  We learn that there are people and sentient beings doing things that we don’t understand

Fifth, some speculate that we are evolutionarily disposed to see something in the dark.  For example, way back when, if a person heard a rustling in the bush it was better in terms of survival to think a panther caused it than the wind.   If it is the wind and you walk away, little to no harm done.  If, however, you think it the wind and there is a panther, well,  bad things happen.

As evidence of the truth that a baby is much more inclined to grow up to believe in surviving-a-sleep-regressionsupernatural beings than be an atheist, consider how long it took for science and scientific thinking to arise.  And then look at how long religion and superstitious beliefs have been around.  Superstitious beliefs have been around as far back as we can see in our history.  Scientific thought, only within the last few hundred years (the precursors a couple of thousand years).

Why? Because belief in supernatural personalities being behind what we cannot understand and control is much, much more natural for us.

imagesIf we put 100 new born children on a deserted island and provided only the care needed to ensure their survival, they would all grow up and devise supernatural explanations for much of what they see around them. They would not grow up to become atheists.

I can understand the attraction of believing that religion is a delusion foisted off on us when we were children by lies, lies told by adults for various, often nefarious, reasons. However, the truth is that believing in supernatural entities is much more natural to us than not believing in such beings.

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First, not all claims of sexual harassment are going to be true.

The great majority will be. But, there will be a few that will not be true. This could be due Mooreto maliciousness, revenge or political/economic gain, or for a moment in the spotlight or just miscommunication.

Second, not all instances of sexual harassment are equally egregious.

Pressure to have sex for promotions or hiring, sexual harassment of minors, and squeezing the butt, while all wrong and deserving of condemnation, are not equally as wrong.

Third, people screw up, occasionally very badly; even good people.Loretta Lynch Addresses Congressional Black Caucus Conference In DC

One or even two instances of sexual harassment, dependent upon the type of sexual harassment, does not make one a bad person or even a serial sexual harasser (not sure of a good word for this).

Fourth, related to the third: the times and standards have changed and are changing.

While the standards often sound the same,  how they are being understood and applied in recent years is different from how they were understood and applied 30, 40 or 50 years ago:  the pervasive idea  that men were allowed and expected to discipline wayward women by spanking them, that forcing a kiss was what women wanted even when  they said no, women liked sexual advances and were flattered by them even when saying no that men were meant to rule the home and women, ultimately, submit – all show in countless movies, books, stories.

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What this means is that you have some applying the same applications as before, applications that they learned and absorbed from birth,  and who honestly do not see themselves as sexually harassers.  And refuse to change.

Then you have some who do acknowledge and are aware of and agree with those changes but whose initial behaviors and habits were formed back during the day, and this can give rise to problems – such as my third point – people screw up. It takes time and work to change ingrained habits and views.

For an example of the above, consider women who were brought up in an extreme Christian purity culture – home schooled, only acceptable role is as wife and mother, emphasis on being a virgin when married, formal education not important, submissive, etc. Even though at some point they make a conscious decision to break away, it takes years to change habits and points of views. There are and will be mistakes and issues created in the changing of this view.

Fifth, a variation of the fourth, the times are changing and have changed. How far back do we want to hold people accountable to the new understanding?

For example, a man acting on the standards of the 60s or 70s, but who is trying to change and has been doing so, do we still hold his actions in the 60s and 70s and 80s against him?  Much of this is going to depend on how far back, which in turn depends on when you consider the times seriously started changing as well as the nature of the offense – see my Second point above.

Sixth, the truth of my first point, not all claims are going to be true, and to an extent, my second one, not all instances of sexual harassment equally bad, have been horribly abused in the past to defend men’s indefensible actions.

In fact, this abuse has been so pervasive that I think that we are reluctant now to admit that such can be occasionally true. Especially in light of how those opposed take those few and try to inflate it and deflect attention away from the larger issue.

Add to this the fact that our culture too often still blames women for rape and sexual harassment; even underage girls. A few years back here in Texas a young girl of 11 was gang raped several times over a period of a few months. Many people, including many women, blamed the girl, calling her slut and such, even though it appeared that the initial gang rape was totally obviously non-consensual complete with the girl saying no.  And afterwards… the girl was 11, need more be said?
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Because of these concerns we have become very sensitive to anything that smacks of victim blaming and slut shaming. We have cause to be. But, I think we are in danger of being so sensitive on this that we do not consider that occasionally the man, or woman, is not guilty.

The reason I think we need to be clear on this is that making such a mistake not only makes us wrong, but also, in practical terms provides ammunition to those who are resisting the reality that sexual harassment is a real and large problem. They are already doing this with hate crime by using the few hate crime hoaxes to question and/or discredit all other clams.

Now, in addition to the points above, I think we need to start making some distinctions.  To me there are three broad categories – inappropriate behavior, harassment, and assault.

Inappropriate behavior might be such things as sexual comments, stealing a kiss, grabbing the butt, and so on.

Harassments is something that has to happen more than once to the same person.

Sexual assault is sex that occurs despite the person saying no, or otherwise indicating that it is not welcome.

Currently in the reporting and discussions I have seen, all three are lumped together.  While this is useful for broad discussions, when you want to talk about specifics, about what to do in individual cases, and about what social changes should be promoted, we need to be aware of the distinctions and not handle each of them the same.

My last thought is that this is going to be messy.  All needed social change is. It will involve a lot of dialogue and will involve a lot of conflict, the conflict not always between those of opposite sides. We will disagree among ourselves about what to do. That is normal.  And this process will not be perfect. Nothing human ever is.

And those who are opposed to this change will take that messiness, and use those few times when an innocent person is harmed , to try to discredit the movement.  To counter this we need to:

  • Admit when we are wrong and an innocent person has been harmed, and not do so in a defensive manner, but openly and with genuine regret.
  • Be ready with facts and reason. Facts and reason honed, hopefully, by debate and discussions among ourselves.
  • Be ready to provide the benefits of creating a more equal society, not just in terms of justice and morality, but in terms of creating better opportunities that will create better job growth and economic growth.
  • Not be afraid to admit we don’t know or aren’t sure when we really do not know and really are unsure. We need to develop a reputation of honesty.
  • Be aware that we will make mistakes, both as a movement and as individuals. Be strong enough to learn and push on anyway.

 

GeorgeTakei

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I was going to use George Takei and Al Franken to illustrate how I think the thoughts above would play out in real life. But, this is getting too long as it is, and so, instead, I will just tell you the end result of my thinking based on the above points.  And then let you try to figure out why, and decide if I was correct or totally off base.

George Takai.  I do not believe he committed any acts of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.

Al Franken.  He engaged in inappropriate behavior with several women over a period of time. However, I do not believe he should have been pressured to resign. An ethics investigation and some other penance would have done (provide the ethics investigation did not find anything more than what has already come out).  Or, conversely, he should have said that he would resign if Trump would submit to an ethics investigation in regards to his acts of sexual harassment.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Increase of Virtue

Outing sexual harassers and those who have sexually assaulted women and men is becoming the new national pastime.  To explain what is happening, I have seen several indexcolumns and pieces by conservatives going on the same line as this one by Cal Thomas.  It basically blames the current plague of sexual harassments on a lack of virtue, a lack created in large part by the sexual revolution.

“In the train wreck of our present culture, we are witnessing the failure over the last 50 years to instruct and discipline our children in ways that as adults they are more likely to embrace the values that can lead to a virtuous life.”

However, there are several problems with such a view.  To see what they are, I think it instructive to take a look at the values and virtues being practice back in the good old 170925-roy-moore-silver-revolver-ac-1028p_174d3c9ea036cda80c5a35264adaed76.nbcnews-fp-1200-630days.  And since they put it at 50 years, let’s provide a bit of a cushion and make it a good 61 years back, 1956, the year of my birth.  A very good year.

 

For blacks though, 1956 was not so good. In 1956 Jim Crow laws were still in full force. There were communities which blacks knew they had to avoid after dark.  I was born in 1956 and I remember seeing white only communities – designated as such by signs –  when I was around seven or eight. Blacks had special roadmaps for cross country trips that listed which cities were problems for blacks and to avoid, as well as where they could get help.  Blacks were discriminated  in the types of jobs they could get, where they could live, where they could go to school,  when they could go to public pools or the state fairs.  And this barely even scratches the surface of what it meant to be black and living in the virtuous 50s.

Well then, what about women?  After all, during that time weren’t men respectful of women and treasured them?

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Times were changing during this decade, but not that much yet.  The primary role of a woman was still seen as that of wife and mother.  Anything else was an aberration and unnatural.  Many jobs were closed off to women, and of those that were open men were paid more. In fact, many companies had written policies stating that a woman would be paid less than a man for the same position.  And even when a woman had a job outside the home, she often did not control her earnings. Many states stated that any money earned by a woman were legally under the control of either her husband or father.  In fact, getting a credit card or a loan usually required a man.  Oh, and a woman had no legal right to say no to her husband when he wanted sex.   And if she dared to try to, well, a man could legally spank or beat his wife.  And it was socially approved.  In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the legal system started to take domestic violence seriously.  Until then, even though wife beating had been illegal since the 1930s, it was treated as a domestic matter and largely ignored.

OK then, well surely in the area of gays and transgende….. OK, not so much. The only way you could argue that 1956 was virtuous in regards to gays is if you believe homosexuality to be gravely abnormal,  a grave sin, and the homosexual worthy of the grave if they do not change their ways after losing their jobs, being jeered and  abused, and being beaten and institutionalized.

Well, surely there were fewer business and political scandals then, weren’t there?  That would at least give some support to the whole virtuous argument promoted by Cal Thomas and many other conservatives.

Uh oh.  McCarthyism anyone?  And lets not forget Nixon’s Checkers Speech (in which he claimed the only gift he received was a dog and never mind that 18,000 dollars worth of things sitting over there).  And this was in the heyday of J. Edgar Hoover who had his agents illegally break into business and organizations he suspected leaned left.  Or …well, I see a great many more there too.  So, never mind finding support for the virtuous past from that quarter.

Oh, but wait, governments are always iffy on virtue, what about businesses?

OK, lets see. Hmm, there is the 1951 basketball scandal, the quiz show scandals, oh, and several Hollywood sex scandals.  Not looking so good on the nonsport and nonentertainment industries either.  Bribery and fronting and graft, oh my!

Sorry, just not seeing that time as being especially virtuous.  In fact, for the reasons above, I would argue that today is a more virtuous time than then.  And it is because of this that we are having a wave of sexual harassment claims, a wave that I hope continues.

So, in regards to sexual harassment and rape and such. Does Cal and friends really believe that there was less of each back in the day?

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Sorry Cal and friends, there wasn’t. However, back then women being under men’s control was considered normal, and a man asserting his control was normal too.  Spanking a woman for being disobedient or to keep her in her place was normal.  In fact, in my younger days I greatly enjoyed the John Wayne movie McClintock.  Until I saw it again a few years ago and saw this scene (and the one at the end where McClintock gives his new son-in- law an ash shovel to use on his daughter when she becomes difficult).

Now, I will admit that it is possible that sexual harassment may not have been as prevalent then as now.  But, if true, look at the cost.  Women largely did not work outside the home.  Women had to cover up thoroughly and usually had to be accompanied by a male family member or husband.    They were chaperoned.  They were not allowed or encouraged to get an education.  Strict limits were imposed on their dress, their movements, their freedom.  Men were expected to control women; for their own good of course.  And women who did not conform, even if just for a moment, well they were obviously women of easy virtue and so fair game.

That, obviously, has changed.  For several reasons. maxresdefault

 

We, as a species, have an innate sense of fairness.  When a person or a group is being treated unfairly there will, eventually be pushback.  Over the millennia, white males were the first to fully take advantage of the new fangled idea of rights and freedom.  Other groups who were excluded noticed that white males being the only ones to have such rights was not fair. And so women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights.

Women started moving out of the home, controlling their own money, getting jobs, Issue_Womens-Rightsbecoming educated, and going  boldly into careers that no woman had been before.  World War II  accelerated this movement as men were in short supply at home and so women took their spots in the factories.

Adding to this was the idea that birth control, instead of being a sin, was a good thing. That women should not have to bear  child after child after child and often die early because of this.  That women could control their own bodies.

And this was good.

However, men, and our society in general, was slower to change in attitudes and practices.  After all, in the past, a woman who worked outside the home and had sex was a slut and could be treated as such.  Women were inferior and so could be treated as such.  Men had urges that were OK to satisfy, and women shouldn’t complain about it.  These attitudes and views are the true source of sexual harassment, and they go back many thousands of years, not the mere 50 mentioned by Cal and others of his ilk.

What we have today, Cal and Cynthia Allen (not going to post her column, suffice it to say It follows the same line as Cal’s) is not a dearth of virtue, but an increase in virtuous expectations.  Our standards have been raised.  Society is changing.  And what makes it amazing is that it is happening in the age of Trump.  But, maybe Trump and the Republicans were what was needed to provide the kick to ratchet up this needed virtuous change.

Instead of a lack of virtue and now a return, what is happening is an increase of virtue, an awareness that what was normal no longer should be.  Just as we have done for race (and, despite what some conservatives say, are still in the process of doing) and homosexuality (ditto here for the conservatives, but more so) we have recognized that our old views of a  man’s and woman’s roles in society were not just.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s may have influenced the shape of the problem today, but it was not the cause. The cause is an increase of virtue. And that is beautiful baby.

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This is a blog that I originally posted on August 17, 2014.  Given the recent passage of the tax bill in the Senate and the oh so much else going on, I thought it was time to bring it repost it again. As a reminder of what one of our primary responsibilities on earth is.

Recently my newspaper had an editorial about a local issue. The subject doesn’t really matter, what does is the fact that they criticized the Fort Worth School Board for missing the opportunity to teach the students a valuable lesson- that life is not fair.

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I am not going to get into the specific issue itself. Instead, let me discuss a more general truth and what it means, namely that life is not fair. The editorial is correct in this much – life is not fair. That is something every person experiences over and over again throughout their lives, from birth to death.

Further, let me add the related fact that the universe is a cold and uncaring place. Whether you do well and prosper, whether you suffer unspeakable pain and losses, or imageswhether, like most, you fall somewhere in between – the universe neither cares nor notices.

Of course, that is not the universe’s job. It provided us life and a place to live that life. Nothing less and never anything more. To expect more from the universe and life than what it has already given you is an exercise in futility and frustration. However, there is more to be considered here, because within this universe we, humanity, exist.

It is our job, yours and mine, to create fairness; to create justice and mercy. We are a social animal, an animal with empathy, with a sense of justice, with a sense of fairness. equality-vs-justiceSuch has been demonstrated among our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, as well as seen in our own very young, our babies. We have a need for justice, for fairness, for mercy. It is one of the reasons that religion came about. It is the reason why we have made such gains throughout the ages – established justice systems, developed democracy, established and expanded human rights, developed more live-so-that-when-your-children-think-of-fairness-and-integrity-they-think-of-youinclusive and expansive moral codes.

And this is where my local paper, the Star Telegram, got it so very, very wrong. Their mistake is, unfortunately, a too common one.

Yes, life is unfair and the universe does not care. But, that is not their job. It is our job, our responsibility to supply, as much as we can, what life and the universe lacks: fairness, justice, mercy. The Fort Worth school board got it exactly right in their decision to pay these young people.

 

Christmas presents come in a variety of shapes and forms, and arrive in a variety of ways both expected and unexpected.

This Thanksgiving weekend my wife and I shared our grandkids with their mother at a rented cabin on Caddo Lake.  On Friday my wife and I decided to try out a small Mexican restaurant that we had seen earlier.  Since our daughter did not care for Mexican food, and since it was getting close to bed time for our grandchildren, we set off by ourselves.

The restaurant’s name was Aseret.  It sits on a low hill surrounded by a parking lot of grass, asphalt, gravel and concrete, unmarred by any painted white lines.  Below is a picture of that restaurant.  As I said earlier, Christmas presents come in a variety of shapes and forms.   And let me now add, wrappings.

 

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When my wife and I entered we saw a bare concrete floor upon which several simple unoccupied tables rested. Snuggled near them were empty chairs, enough for around 36 people.  The walls were decorated with various different music motifs – silhouettes of  men playing guitar and accordion, musical notes dancing between the strings of musical staffs, outline of a jukebox and more.

On the back table was a guitar case, that would later prove to hold a guitar, and a stack of what appeared to be music books. Standing at this table was a man of Mexican appearance, who looked to be in his 40s. Short, clean shaven, slightly overweight.

This man greeted me and my wife with a big smile and a big string of Spanish words well beyond the grasp of my very meager Spanish. Fortunately, my wife’s knowledge of Spanish is merely meager instead of very meager, and so she become the designated speaker for us.  Between her meager Spanish and his slightly less meager English, communication was somewhat established.

Drinks were first, and he brought my wife a can of sprite and me my bottle of coke. We both declined a glass of ice to go with it, or tequila to replace it.  At the same time the owner brought our chips to us and presented us with a decision to make, He had two salsas.  One was regular, the other hot.  Since I do not eat salsa, the decision was my wife’s to make. She chose the hot salsa; and after making her try  a bit of it first to make sure she was able to take the heat, he filled her bowl with the hot stuff.

After looking over the menu, my wife decided to order the flautas.  The owner said  “Tacos?” No, she replied, flautas. He asked my wife is she liked goat meat. To which she said that she had never had it. He then asked, what about lamb?  Again a negative from my wife.   After this questioning, the owner then proudly told us that he had a special on tacos with goat meat. Or possibly lamb.  My wife’s Spanish and the owner’s English were not up to the task for being sure on this.  But, my wife decided to go for the experience, and tacos it was.

I vigorously jabbed the menu where it said enchiladas and said very firmly “Enchiladas.  Cheese enchiladas.  The owner then proceeded to ask me if I wanted American cheese or Mexican cheese.  I proudly said Mexican; American cheese in Mexican food is wrong.  He then asked if I wanted verde on my enchiladas.  I asked for my usual – chili con carne.  To which, he looked puzzled, and I had my first inkling that my enchiladas might be a new experience for me.  I chose the red sauce, and away he went.
My wife enjoyed her meal of three soft tacos filled with goat or lamb.  Me, I discovered that I do not much care for goat cheese, nor red sauce.  But, I ate all three enchiladas.  After all, what could I do when the owner brought the plates out saying “Good, good, you will like”, and then checking in on us with “is good, si?”.  I always answered “si, mucho gusto”.

Perhaps at this point I should mention that the owner was very happy to see us, and was obviously proud of his place and his food.  And so wanted to share what he had with us.  And what he wanted to share with us after we had eaten was music.

He went to the guitar case on the back table, opened it, and brought his guitar to our table.  “Christmas Music! Mexican Christmas Music”.  And then he started playing.  And my ordeal, as I was thinking of it then, continued.

His guitar playing was adequate, although he had some troubles with transitions.  His singing was good if he stayed within a limited range. But high notes were trouble and trying to sing more forcefully was a problem.  But he played and sang on, having a wonderful time and thinking we were too.  And, as I watched him, I started to have a wonderful time too.

He played another song and then finished his set with his version of Feliz Navidad, one of my wife’s favorite Christmas songs.  And, of course, we had to sing along too.

Afterwards, through my wife’s broken Spanish and his broken English, we talked.  And in talking we found out that he had always enjoyed cooking, and especially cooking for others.  He proudly told us that he had had people from Houston, Austin, Chicago, and….Australia!

He also told us that he used to play back in the kitchen and not out in the dining area. But, one day, some customers heard him playing and urged him to play for them in the dining room.  And they loved his playing.

As I watched and listened to him I realized this was a man living out his dreams.  And hugely enjoying it. And that was my Christmas Present, the one he unknowingly gave to me.   Dreams are meant to be lived fully, and enjoyed.   And to grow, as his love of cooking led to realizing what, I imagine, was a dormant dream of playing his music publically.

Even if his dream does not last…well, let me modify an old saying – it is better to have dreamed and tried than to never have dreamed at all.  And I was thankful for being there to watch this man living his dream.

“I know everyone who gave their life that day, some of which were my best friends and my daughter. And I guarantee you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, they are dancing with Jesus today.”

 

The above quote from Pastor Frank Pomeroy of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas captures one of the reasons why religion will never die.  It may diminish some.  It will certainly continue to change greatly. But die, no.

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This quote is from a sermon he preached on Sunday, Nov 12, 2017.  A week before this sermon a gunman had entered his church and murdered  26 members of his congregation, including his 14 year old daughter. He preached this sermon in a tent. At the front of the tent were the few remaining members of his congregation.

Many atheists say that religion will one day die out and be no more.  Some say it is already happening, that it is shrinking and will continue to do so until it no longer exists.   I believe that the number of atheists will continue to grow for awhile, but do not think it will ever become the dominant religious view of the planet. And by atheism, I mean the variety that does not believe in God or the supernatural.  Instead, I think some variety of religious belief, including in a God, will survive and still be the most common view.

The reason I think this is because I realize that humans are more heart than mind.  And, by the way, that is not a bad thing. While the heart can and has led to many evils, it is also the source of our morality and most of what is good too.  It is also an essential part of what gives our lives joy and happiness. Evidence, logic, reason all have an important role, but they are not the basis of what is good and right in our lives.

David Hume put it well when he said, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

Many atheists may be surprised at this quote from Hume. After all, he is a one of the pre-eminent empirical and skeptical philosophers in history.  However, Hume realized that we do not use our reason to determine our morality and our goals, but rather, they are chosen through our passions and emotions. And reason is then used in aide of them (which can include modifying them to if needed) and, to justify them (unfortunately).

Consider, did you reason your way to loving your parents and siblings?  Did you use logic and evidence and rational thought when meeting people to determine your friends?  Did you reason your way to loving your children?

In moral decisions, do you use abstract moral principles and reason from them to determine if a given action that you have to make now is moral or not?  And do you use reason to determine whether to get angry or not when you see a man knock down an old woman and steal her purse, a woman slapping a child hard enough to mark them, a child tormenting a cat?

Reason has a role to play, but it is in aide and support of, not in substitution of.

Which is why religion will never die away.

What arouses more passion than both the idea and reality of death.  Not only our own death, but, often more importantly, the death of your loved ones – parents, spouse, friends.  Children.

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171105195446-14-sutherland-springs-church-shooting-super-169            For most people, such losses need more than what reason and logic can provide.  I wrote a blog a few weeks ago, “There is No Immortality, But There Are Times I Chose to Believe Anyway”, about why I find traditional atheist platitudes on death unsatisfactory, and  why, on an emotional level, I find myself vested in the belief in the rainbow bridge and will continue to happily be so vested.

This is even though I have been an atheist for over 43 years now.  And this is despite my love of science, my commitment to rational thought, my being a member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry since its first day when its journal was called the Zetetic, and my highly analytical nature.

Consider Martin Gardner, one of the founders of the modern skeptic movement, and a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (called Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal at first). Even though a skeptic of the first order, he believed in God and immortality, even though he knew there was no evidence and that such a belief was irrational.

We are not rational creatures. We can harness rationality and use it, but the great majority of our pleasures and desires and goals are not the result of rational thought.  I did not sit down and say and make a list of things that I might like, put reasons by each of them, and then made a conscious choice.  I like to write because I love to read. And my love of reading did not come about by rational reflection but from emotional response.

And there is nothing wrong with this. It is an essential part of what it means to be human. Change it, and you are dealing with something that is something else than human.

So, when I see what atheism has to offer for comfort and support – atoms returning to the universe to last as long as the universe within the hearts of stars or in enormous gas clouds, living on in the memories and lives of others we have touched, living on in our memories and being one of the ones touched by the deceased, and so forth – and compare that to my friends and loved ones “dancing with Jesus” and waiting for me to join in when I eventually die….well, I know which one resonates more strongly.

One final thought.  While I enjoy discussing and disagreeing about various ideas and issues relating to religion – and do feel there is much that deserves strong condemnation – the most important thing is not religious beliefs per se, but an individual’s views towards choices.  Pastor Frank Pomeroy said this well in his sermon too;

“Folks, we have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness, as the one young man did that day, I say we choose life. “

I just recently came across this blog that perfectly highlights one of the reasons I eventually became an atheist – the philosophical and moral problems in believing in an omniscient, omnipotent, moral being, especially one who is concerned about our welfare and well being.

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In “No This Isn’t All Part of God’s Plan So Lets Stop Blaming It on Him”, by Dr. Benjamin L Corey, Dr. Corey tries to salvage the moral part of that description of God.  Unstated, and, perhaps, unrecognized, is that he does so at the expense of an idea of a God being all knowing and all powerful.

Dr. Corey starts off by discussing why he has a problem with those who, in the face of a tragic loss, say it is all part of God’s plan.  This bit here does a good job of summarizing this problem:

Not only does that line fail to bring me comfort, it also seems to impugn God’s character. The idea that a loving God would have a “plan” that involved wiping out thousands in earthquakes and tsunamis, giving people cancer, parents losing children, car accidents, trauma, abuse, and all manner of pain and suffering, is an insane idea.

Think about it: if this is all “according to God’s plan” and every life event is being directed and controlled by him, he’s really bad at making plans.

In some of my saddest seasons of loss, people have come along side of me and said, “Well, we’ll never really understand God’s plan.”

And every time I hear it, through my tears and suffocating sadness I just want to reply, “No shit, Sherlock.” How could a plan that involves so much heartache be understood?

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Sometimes we’ll say God planned the suffering for our benefit. Other times we’ll be tricked into believing that God planned the suffering to chastise us for not measuring up. Yet, no matter how we try to rationalize or explain it, we end up at the same spot: if this is all part of God’s plan, God is the author and cause of evil and suffering

 

I agree with Dr. Corey on this. I have never understood how a good God could cause evil and suffering and still be considered a good God. However, I will say that the Old Testament writers had no problem in doing so.  God afflicted Saul with madness. He hardened the pharoah’s heart. He sent plagues to punish. He sent disasters to punish. As with Job, God could take away a spouse, children, wealth and home and health…and yet was still good and moral.

I believe that there were three reasons that these ancient writers thought this.  One was the mystery bit that God hits Job with at the end – were you there when I made the morning, shut the door to the seas, laid the foundation of the earth.  In other words, God is so great and we so small that we will never be able to understand his reasons. But, take his word for it, he is a Good God.

Another is that many ancients believed that those who suffered somehow deserved it. That is still another answer that many still believe, although I do not think as many as in these ancient times (during early Christianity, doctors did not look for physical causes of diseases, but, instead, looked for how that person had sinned and so called down this affliction from God, and what they could do to appease God – it is one reason that Muslim doctors became the more trusted.)

Finally, I think that the ancients believed that whoever had the power had the right to say what was good and what was wrong.  A more primitive version of the modern position that God is morality.

Over time though, societies and cultures grew and changed.  Ideas were tested and ideas discarded.  Among those were ideas about morality.  Today, the idea of might makes right is abhorrent for most people.  And the idea that all people who suffer deserve it is likewise seen by most as absurd (birth defects anyone).

Which leaves only the mystery one still surviving – that God has a reason that would make what seems evil into good and right. But, unfortunately, we are too limited in our understanding to ever be able to see this.

 

Dr. Corey quite rightly rejects this. But, in doing so he has also rejected the ideas of an all knowing and all powerful God, and either doesn’t realize it or chooses not to acknowledge this.  Here is his answer to the problem of evil and a moral God.

 

Instead, when we acknowledge that really hard and sad life events did not come from the hand of God, and were not in any way planned by or ordained by God, I believe we’re invited to get to know a God who joins in our suffering instead of causing it.

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Instead of trying to rationalize our suffering as being from the hand of God– thus making God an agent to be petrified of instead of a creator to be loved, I think we should be quicker to acknowledge that, no, a lot of what we experience in life isn’t God’s plan at all.

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Because you see, if it’s outside of God’s heart and desires, God grieves that loss and brokenness with us– because it’s his hopes and dreams for our lives that end up getting smashed as well.

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Instead of this idea of God having a master plan that meticulously dictates and controls what happens in our lives (often referred to a blueprint theology), I believe that God has hopes, dreams, and desires for our stories. When those things come true, he rejoices and celebrates with us.

But when those hopes and dreams get smashed to bits, instead of saying “Oh, by the way– I actually did that,” I believe God sits in the dark and mourns those broken dreams with us.

And when the tears have subsided long enough to begin to hear his voice clearly, I’m convinced he’s also whispering, “And I know this can’t replace your loss, but when you’re ready I’d love to partner with you to try to make something good come out of all this.”

 

First off, notice that God no longer knows what is going to happen: “…his hopes and dreams for our lives that end up getting smashed as well” and “were not in any way planned or ordained by God”.  In other words, God is not all knowing.

Next off, not all powerful.  God cannot stop these events from happening and once happened he cannot “replace your loss”.

So, Dr. Corey gets to keep the moral part of the descriptor of God, but at the expense of God not being all powerful and all knowing.  And that’s fine. If you want to define God like that then our discussion should be on how limited is God, and when do those limits approach describing a being who cannot be described as God any longer.

alien___god_of_doom_by_areigam

And , truth to be told, if you want to have an all-powerful and all knowing God who does not care about morals and morality, I think you have a stronger case too.

 

Take your pick.