Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Myth of Atheist Dogma

I was recently "unfriended" on Facebook by someone who was tired of my "bullshit dogma" and the fact that I make broad generalization/insult people just because they have faith in something that I don't. Apparently I'm not open, accepting, and tolerant either.

It has got me thinking, and I have managed to learn quite a few things:

I have learned that God created the Universe - or [he] didn’t.  Either way, the results were the same.

I have learned that emotion and logic are enacted in two separate parts of the human brain, and when someone becomes highly emotional, the synaptic activity in the logic circuits of the brain become somewhat dulled (on a temporary basis), often resulting in the loss of roughly 30 IQ points (one merely needs to think of how logical they are in the throes of anger, depression, stress or love for that matter, to see the subtle truth to this).

I have learned that the majority of people who make religious arguments, tend to rely solely on emotional reasoning, all while believing they are making logical, rational arguments (it’s the main reason why we label the intrinsic belief in something unreasonable or illogical in terms of “faith”).

I have learned that one can be highly spiritual but be completely devoid of religious credulity.  I would further say that I have learned that many people who are spiritual and devoid of religious faith can actually be refreshingly MORE spiritual, compassionate, and moral than those who claim to have a more traditional religious worldview.

I’ve learned that people don’t like it when you use words like “supernatural”, “mythology”, or “credulous” when describing unreasonably held beliefs, even though they are completely valid and accurate descriptions of said beliefs (credulous: readiness or willingness to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence; see also the term “faith”). 

I’ve learned that there’s a pretty blatant hypocrisy underlying the issue of faith in America.  We don’t live in a theocracy, yet one is essentially ATTACKED and called “elitist”, “intolerant”, or “not open or accepting” when one points out the hypocrisy of school prayer, the exclusive inclusion of “in God we trust” on our currency, adding the exclusive phrase “under God” to this countries Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the posting of the highly exclusive, patriarchal 10 Commandments in public sectors (with tax payer money no less), the exemption of churches from being taxed (even though some support conservative politics), starting meetings on the Senate floor with prayer, swearing on a holy book in court, or - heaven forbid - one evokes the separation of church and state (which was an idea devised by our “founding fathers” in order to protect BOTH, btw).  Apparently the term E Pluribus Unum is being attacked by The Religious Right as being un-patriotic/un-American.

I have learned that whenever the Religious Right says something, to pretty much expect that exact opposite, as they pretty consistently seem to reside in some form of Bizzaro World (an alternate universe where everything is exactly the opposite of what it supposed to be) and engage in “doublespeak” (a term taken from George Orwell’s novel “1984” in which language is used to deliberately disguise, distort, or reverse the meaning of words, which may take the form of euphemisms [e.g., "downsizing" for layoffs], making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature. It may also be deployed as intentional ambiguity, or reversal of meaning [for example, naming a state of war "peace"]. In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth, producing a communication bypass).

I’ve learned that while I attempt to choose my words accurately, not a lot of people appreciate such brutal honesty, especially when such words bring a long held (one might say, “entrenched”) belief into question.  People seem to be a lot more comfortable listening to doublespeak.

I’ve learned that people tend to use polarizing words such as “broad generalizations” or “insulting” to describe a well thought out hypothesis based on empirical evidence - especially when that particular hypothesis happens to disagree with a widely established, religious or cultural meme (regardless of the overwhelming lack of evidence to support said unreasonable meme).  I’ve also learned that people often don’t even realize they are doublespeaking when they say such things.

I have learned that many credulous individuals tend to lack the ability to make rational arguments based on an underlying foundation of critical thinking skills and/or engage in true scientific reasoning.  This isn’t meant to be insulting, and this can probably easily be filed away as another example of my using “broad generalizations,” but it’s hard not to “generalize” when you are constantly dealing with irrelevant arguments based on countless logical fallacies (ad hominem, begging the question/circular reasoning, confusion of cause and effect, relativist fallacy, appeals to authority, post hoc arguments, straw man arguments, etc. -  just to name a few). 

I have learned that I am rarely surprised by lack of originality in arguments of faith, especially among the die-hard believers.  To “broadly generalize” a bit more, I would argue that most of these people have no idea what a “logical fallacy” is (otherwise, why would a reasonable person continue to commit them?), but this is just pure speculation on my part.  If people were more aware of what a thinking errors was, I believe there would be more room for a more balanced, enlightened discussions regarding faith.  Unfortunately, this issue brings me back to the logical conundrum that got me in so much trouble in the first place (the quote from House: “‎"If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”), but I digress.

[For a comprehensive list of logical fallacies, check out this website:].

I have learned that people just need to either build a better argument (one without an abundant amount of blatant logical fallacies, doublespeak and thinking errors) or realize that a faith based argument is inherently not a logical one  - it’s an emotional one (which is actually probably the BEST argument you CAN make, because you can’t argue with a person regarding HOW they “feel” regardless of how irrational that feeling is in terms of logic, as emotions are NOT based on logic).  I’ve learned that most people who maintain a strong habit of continually making faith based arguments can’t seem to tell the difference.

I’ve also learned (personally, as part of my own spiritual practice) that if we are offended by something in life or within our environment, that the annoyance or anger we feel can be treated as a great opportunity to explore the cause of WHY we were so angry, offended, or “stuck” (instead of lashing out at those who we believe have offended us).  Unfortunately, I’ve also learned not many choose to do this for whatever reason.  The sad fact is that righteous anger is often directed at a “perceived” catalyst (typically the another person or group).  Let’s be completely honest with ourselves for a moment though - can a person ever truly FEEL and ACT upon the feeling of anger without the overwhelming sense of confidence that they are 100% correct and justified in their opinion and/or actions?  When is anger NOT self-righteous?  It’s definitely something to think about. 

What else have I learned from all this?  I have learned that while we are told to be open to others erroneous belief systems, there will inevitably be an underlying hypocrisy whenever an attempt is made to share an “educated” belief that goes against another persons strongly held, irrational or unquestioned belief (such as the fact that the institute of religion causes a lot of suffering in society – a proposition that has accumulated an ample amount of evidence over the centuries, which I believe requires serious consideration from anyone claiming to be moral or compassionate). 

I have learned that such “noble sharing” of beliefs and hypothesis which go against the established norms regarding faith often tend to lead to a kind of insolent “how dare you?” response followed by “those who choose not to believe” being told that THEY are the ones who are “intolerant” (causing me to “learn” another important fact - that the knack for self-righteous projection among the credulously indoctrinated can often appear quite uncanny). 

I have learned that many fundamentally religiously oriented individuals often have an almost pathologically poor view of innate human potential (i.e.: what kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor, or to propose that we are ALL born “bad”, and how exactly can such a belief be seen as overflowing with open-mindedness, tolerance, and/or compassion for that matter?). 

I have learned, despite what we’ve been lead to believe, that morality comes from within, and no supernatural explanation is required to explain human compassion.  Compassion is fully compatible with the evolution of our species.

I have learned that to the creationist, gaps in the fossil record are easily filled by the hand of God. 

I have learned that many religious individuals desire readily available answers to many of life’s existential questions, but the slapping of a “God label” on that which we don’t understand merely shows ones lack of ability to deal with the ambiguity of life and possibly suggests a general lack of imagination and/or curiosity.

I have learned that the theory of organic evolution does not require a higher power to function, and that anyone who would suggest such a thing is merely showing a deep ignorance of the fundamental tenets of modern evolutionary theory.  If a supernatural power DID exist and “observed” the flourishing of our species without any direct contact or “divine interventions”, one could easily see how completely unnecessary and inept such a being would be – bordering on pointlessness - in terms of the basic mechanics of human evolution.

I have learned that while we hear a lot of lip service about the so-called compassion of Jesus, it is the angry, jealous God (whom appears to be much more narcissistic and megalomaniacal then one would suppose an “enlightened” deity to be) whom we hear much more about, lurking vengefully among the shadows in the minds of the fundamental, religiously indoctrinated. 

I have learned that people like to talk about a bunch of undifferentiated cells as if it were an actual life, and that these people are willing to put vast amounts of money and energy at protecting said cells to the point of essentially halting important research that could potentially help cure people of life altering diseases such as cancer and parkinson’s disease.

I have also learned that once these cells come to term and are born (something which more fully resembles an actual living/breathing life form), that it is the same people who argued with their indignant moral superiority of life who are the ones who are busy actively taking away any hope of that this once important “life” will ever have a decent chance to thrive (this is typically orchestrated by actively de-funding and demonizing the social institutions that could properly care for such a life). 

And when the child doesn’t thrive - I have learned that the innocent child is held PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for its “free will” and sorry lot in life (which is an easy stance to take I’d imagine, when you are sitting on endless piles of money and power, looking down upon the poor and powerless, and blaming THEM for their circumstances in life, while the only thing you have to show for yourself is your inherited wealth and hatred for people who are unlike you).

I have learned that it is completely hypocritical to be both pro-life and pro-war at the same time, or to be pro-life and get a thrill at killing or threatening abortion doctors due to ones marriage to unreasonable philosophies, which is often nothing more than a distraction and/or false dilemma (which is another logical fallacy, btw) enacted by those in power who would prefer to manipulate the populace by distracting them from the real issues and getting them to vote against their own best interests by focusing on distracting “wedge issues”, but I digress.

I’ve learned that people like to protest and wear tea bags on their hats (apparently completely clueless as to what duties are fundamentally required in the act of “tea bagging” - which have nothing to do with governmental politics I might add) as they scream for a call to arms for a “smaller government.” 

Furthermore, I have learned that these same “morally superior” people who like to call Democrats or liberals things like “socialist” and/or “communists” (I guess they don’t receive mail, drive on roads, go to court, or utilize the public schools, or the fire and/or police departments for that matter) who are heard screaming at local town hall meetings, calling for smaller government are the exact same ones supporting government officials who pass laws enabling governmental powers to restrict a woman’s right to choose, or to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights.  This leaves me to wonder whether these people (who often claim a monopoly on moral superiority, fully blanketed in the cross and flag), have ever stopped to realize how hypocritical they were acting and/or whether they have ACTUALLY spent any considerable time actually pondering WWJD (what would Jesus do)? 

I have learned to also question whether Jesus would have actually been compelled to pursue such a morally reprehensible course of action, as he has often been portrayed to be a pretty reasonable guy and the embodiment of compassion. 

I have learned that unreason comes in many forms, and that not all of them are completely obvious to the casual observer.

I have learned the credulously inclined tend to enjoy talking about “open-mindedness” at the same time being unable (or unwilling) to speak from anything other than a binary, dualistic frame (with an extreme focus on “good vs. evil”, “Jesus vs. Satan”, “patriot vs. traitor”, “believers vs. non-believers”, “Republicans vs. Democrats”, “rich vs. poor”, “us vs. them”, etc). 

I have learned that we live in a SPECTRUM of life rather than these fixed, inherited, binary positions that are accepted without question, completely inherent of some theological points of view.

I have learned that we should be very concerned that religious conservatives, many of them biblical literalists, wield so much power in modern America.  These people make our laws.  God has no place in congress and the fact that we have a tax payer supported Prayer Caucus is reprehensible.

I have learned that if one were to be honest with themselves – REALLY honest - and look deeper (which I guess would require an “open mind”) that one would begin to perceive the limitations of the dualistic nature of our inherited Bronze Age tribalism slowly begin to melt away to the point of utter meaninglessness. 

I have learned more importantly, that anyone who believes that the Bible offers the best guidance we have on questions of morality has some very strange ideas about either guidance or morality (that’s if they’ve even read it, which in most cases, I’ve found that they haven’t or can only quote selected verses, often maintaining a general predilection for applying said verses out of context or presenting them with their own idiosyncratic interpretations).

Most importantly however (and probably my main premise in all this), I have learned that because so much suffering can be directly attributed to the institution of religion and unreasonable beliefs, that humanity can no longer afford the luxury to avoid an honest criticism of religious faith.  Such criticism, I believe, is a moral and intellectual necessity of a moral species.  I am therefore willing to accept the ignorant name-calling, but with some minor caveats. 

I can accept the fact that I am not an open person - if by “not open” one means not willing to blindly accept a poorly grounded premise based predominantly on heightened emotion and insufficient evidence.  If that is what was implied by the suggestion that I’m not an open person, then in that sense of the word, I’d have to wholeheartedly agree that I AM not an open person.

I can also accept the fact that as a person, I’m not accepting - if by “not accepting” one means to infer a general lack of blind receptiveness to blatantly preposterous premises with zero evidence in order to conform to a status quo (because that’s the “way it has always been done”), or revulsion of a society that is afraid to ask deeper, more meaningful questions regardless of where the evidence leads (whether it confirms or disconfirms widely held belief systems that have had a dark history of being intrinsically harmful to humanity, it’s compassion for one another, and suppressing of a reasonable discourse based upon reason and testable hypothesis).  If this is what is meant by being unaccepting, than in that sense of the word, it would be reasonable to assume that I AM not an accepting person. 

I can also accept the fact that I’m close-minded - if by “close-minded” one means my inability to disregard solid, empirical evidence on the basis of the temporary comfort that blind faith inevitably brings, and/or a general lack of willingness to accept another persons credulous meme and/or to adjust my life and civil rights in order to support such a rigid, exclusive, and morally reprehensible frame.  If this is what is meant by close-minded, then I it would appear relevant to say I AM close-minded. 

I can accept the fact that I’m also “not tolerant” - if by intolerance one is suggesting a general unwillingness to accept the stripping away of basic civil rights based upon what was or wasn’t explicitly stated in some ancient, mythological text, written by fallible, politically motivated men centuries after the death of their so called savior, or not having the stomach to watch another persons spiritual narcissism dictate reality and political policies that are directly harmful to the well-being of the populace.  If that is what is meant by not having tolerance, then by that definition, it would be logically to suggest that I AM intolerant of such things

I can also accept the basic premise that I ascribe to a bullshit dogma - if by “bullshit dogma” one means the basic tenets of the scientific method (i.e.: which requires: defining a question, gathering empirical information and resources, observing and forming a hypothesis, performing experiments and collecting data, analyzing and interpreting said data and drawing conclusions and RETESTING hypothesis).  If by bullshit dogma this is what is meant, than by that definition, logic would unequivocally dictate that I AM guilty as charged (although, to be completely honest, if one actually took a moment to briefly insert of grain of thought on the subject, the scientific method is so radically and diametrically opposed to any rigid and inflexible concept of “dogma” that the argument immediately begins to burst at the seams from the enormity of its own erroneous bovine weight – another example of the blindness of spiritual narcissists to their own unconscious ability to “project” what they fears about themselves on to another person or group, but I digress).

The fact of the matter is that if people just kept their unreasonable beliefs to themselves, I’d have no problem with the extent of what I see basically coming down to emotional reasoning, a penchant for supernatural explanations of basic natural phenomenon, and/or lack of understanding of basic statistical coincidence.  Humanity continues to find meaning where there is just random coincidence, and to see divinity wherever they actively look for it (Appalachian snake charmers anyone?).  We are built this way.  It is tied to the very fabric of our DNA.  It is an enduring trait that has helped us to survive.  One might even find a cocktail of religious genes some day that make up who we are – I would not at all be surprised.  But just as all humans share a common cannabinoid receptor in our brains, not all traits should be considered equally useful nor worthy of survival.  Something to think about. 

As far as humanities collective penchant for pulling together random phenomena and putting it together in a cohesively meaningful package – one just has to ask, what is the very first thing any newborn infant will begin to invest their time paying attention to?  It’s the human face.  Counterpoint: what’s the first thing the credulous see in their toast in the morning or on the silhouette of a rock face, etc?  They see a FACE of a particular person (namely Jesus or Mary if you come from a Westernize part of the world).  That’s fine, people don’t have to be curious about the origins of these highly ingrained impulses and/or understand what they were “designed for”.  People can think what they want to think.  Their lives can be filled with unexplainable miracles, an undying faith and a general lack of curiosity.  I have no problem with that.  The problem I have, and will continue to have, is when these erroneous beliefs begin to spill out over into the private sector and have a profound effect the civil fabric of society (or my own personal life) that I begin to have a problem (one just needs to take a look at what’s being played out in American politics right now to understand why I might be offended or annoyed when people fall back on their gilded hypocrisy). 

Am I missing the point?  One could probably argue that.  But one could also make a good case for the fact that the argument was framed from the onset upon the basic structure of an extremely limited, binary worldview inherited from a time when our xenophobic tribalism performed the task of keeping us weary of strangers and strange ideas, and in awe of coincidence and supernatural explanations – all for the purpose of effectively transfering our DNA to the next generation.  Somewhere in the past these qualities must have been worthy of survival.

But for me, the miracle of life is not to walk on water – the true miracle is to walk on earth.  But that’s just me – intolerant and not open and/or accepting - how ever one chooses to call it.

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