Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bitter Koolaid

This blog post was originally going to be a successful attempt by myself to argue against my being a militant atheist. My initial argument was that I can't be a militant anything. I'm a pacifist. I feel guilty swatting flies! How can I be a militant anything? Long before I became an atheist, I refused to accept that war ever resolved anything. How do I know this? I studied history. World War One was to be The War To End All Wars. Didn't do a good job of that, did it? Several wars before and since are proof positive: all war does is allow the winners to rewrite history so that it appears war solved something, and it allows the losers to opt to resent the winners until they can find a way to get the upper hand and kick the winners ass in a rematch. Or just drink more vodka. Personally? I do believe in vodka. It's real. I've seen it. Alcoholics are more right than religious zealots. at least I can prove vodka exists.

Anyway, I wanted this blog post to last more than a paragraph so I went to look up what a militant atheist actually is. Yes I'm perfectly aware that wikipedia is not the most reliable and universally accepted source for information, but I tend to use it because 1) I do not recall ever personally disagreeing dramatically with stuff I find in there and 2) I'm a lazy ass. Over at wiki, militant atheism is described thusly:
Julian Baggini defines militant atheism as "Atheism which is actively hostile to religion", which "requires more than strong disagreement with religion - it requires something verging on hatred and is characterised by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious belief. Militant atheists tend to make one or both of two claims that moderate atheists do not. The first is that religion is demonstrably false or nonsense and the second is that it is usually or always harmful
Apparently the word militant in the phrase "militant atheism" doesn't involve the military. I'm not sure why the word "militant" is combined with "atheism" but there's no actual use of force involved.

I wanted to debate this. However, I can't, really. IF the above description is what it means to be a militant atheist, then I pretty much fit the bill, but with some caveats. For example, I didn't start with a desire to wipe out all forms of religion. I may not be there quite yet but I'm approaching that avenue and all the road signs are pointing that way. I see that humanity will eventually abandon the concept of godhood altogether, or we will destroy one another. I'm not sure which outcome would be an improvement.

When I was a young Born Again Christian (something I now refer to as "having drank the Kool Aid"), I still believed myself religiously tolerant. I still thought jews and muslims and buddhists and hindus etc all were going to burn in the Christian Hell, but that was for God to hammer out and I tried not to think about it too much. While here on Earth, it appeared that most of these people still believed in goodness and these other religions can still coexist with my religion even though they're wrong, because we all inherently want the best for each other and humanity as a whole. As for who'd be my neighbor after Judgment Day, I figured I'd let Peter, Paul and Mary discuss it. Or sing about it.

Then I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid. I stopped going to a Baptist Church every Sunday. I still believed in the Christian God, but I lost faith that any man or woman on this planet could get me any closer to Him than I already was. I went to college and attended college courses that challenged me to look at other people's belief structures with more objective eyes, and also to look at my own with an astute objectivity that eventually led me to uncertainty and ethical vertigo. I walked away realizing that it was all not as cut and dried as I thought. In fact, it was so convoluted and complicated and crazy insane that I didn't really want to dissect it any more than I already had. Pandora's Box had been opened, but I thought if I could just sit on the lid, maybe it wouldn't all escape.

Over time I have been forced to accept that not only is my religion wrong, they are all wrong. Every single last one of them. Somebody somewhere uses these religions toward bad ends. Yes, there are others who use them for good. You can argue that overall the good outweighs the bad. I defended it that way for decades myself.

Televangelists convincing poor people to give to them so they can buy another limousine. A president who promised to do God's Will and then had a man killed in cold blood because he threatened Daddy. Priests having sex with children. Rabbis still enforcing rules that make no sense and hold no bearing on reality today even at the expense of the health and well-being of his flock. Parents refusing to allow their child the best in modern medicine on religious grounds. A man in Utah convincing many women to marry him because its what his god tells him to do. Other people telling that guy he can't do that, because their god tells them what to do. Entire cultures that think of sex as depraved and nudity as ugly, but violence under the right circumstances is completely acceptable. Censorship of light-hearted use of coarse references to reproductive and excretory organs as if children will be somehow mentally harmed by contemplating their own bodily functions. People killing doctors in cold blood because the doctors kill babies who haven't even been born yet because the pregnant girl was too young and scared and who knows what else to want the baby because parents do not properly prepare their children for the consequences of sex because religion has confused the issue, refused to allow proper sex education for our youth, and demanded abstinence be heralded rather than the use of condoms (because whether you like it or not some teenagers are going to fuck each other as it is a biological imperative). A pope that would rather see tens of millions in third world countries die of plague and famine than re-access religious dogma. Closet homosexuals who act out violently towards proudly open homosexuals because their beliefs do not allow them to accept themselves for who they are or the reality around them for what it is. Believers in Allah blowing up buildings with airplanes. ...Kirk Cameron for crying out loud! Can't I just point at Kirk Cameron and you'd believe me?

Am I a militant atheist because I see these examples and countless others and am frustrated at how helpless I am to stop this madness from continuing any further? Then I guess I'm a militant pacifist atheist, because the only way to stop this madness would be to become literally militant and blow up a few churches. Be thankful I'm NOT militant!

I would argue the use of the word "hatred." I don't hate believers. I don't even really hate religion itself per se. Like a gun sitting on a counter unused, religion doesn't kill people. However, people who imagine themselves to operate as The Hand Of God DO kill people, and do so more often that we'd like to admit.

I hate how some use religion to hurt others. I hate how some do that and they don't even know they're doing it. I hate that I'm powerless to stop this harm, because Verse help me I'm still a Constitutionalist, and I believe in the freedoms described therein, including the right to believe however you choose without fear of reprisal. But dammit if you saw a kid stick his fork in the light socket over and over again because he likes the jolt it gives him and he thinks its funny even though it's killing him, WOULDN'T YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING? WOULDN'T YOU WANT TO STOP IT?

Mostly I hate that some people KNOW religion hurts other, but they're in a position of influence and they use their place of authority dangerously anyway because they think it serves some higher purpose. Arguably, Mother Theresa was allegedly an atheist near the end of her life, but she continued her work anyway, and there are many critics of her actions especially towards the end of her life where her position as a leader and authority may have caused more harm than good for some, even though she was indeed helping others. Does the end justify the means? Really? Every time?

I do hate people who have figured out, like me, that belief is a lie but they use it to control others, and they're out there. Snake oil salesmen. Con artists. Charlatans who walk into a dry town and promise rain for a price. They're out there, and if you believe in them, they will believe in your pocketbook until it's all gone. Then they'll move on to the next mark.

There are some Mother Theresa like people who honestly sincerely believe in what they're doing and they mean well and nine times out of ten everything works out. However, it's impossible to police. For every one that's successful, there's easily a half dozen or so who meant well but for one reason or another fail and they take a lot of people down with them, and at least as many who do help but also use the place of influence it gives them for occasional or habitual personal gain. There are some who are downright charlatans, and since we're talking about faith, it's impossible to tell the bad from the good, because I honestly can't say that George W Bush was a charlatan. He might have been just incredibly stupid. Either way, he dragged our country's reputation through the mud. It will take generations for America to win over the hearts and minds of many throughout the world. It may never actually be possible. George W Bush claimed to be on a mission from his God to stop the Do-Gooders, but all he did was leave the presidency with the country having more enemies than we had when he started. If you still believe George W Bush's actions were good for this country and humanity as a whole, please please please stop reading. I'm not talking to you. I don't want to save you from your own ignorance. Please continue to believe your petty little lies about reality. Go away. Embrace your imaginary savior.

To the rest of you who are still here, what can I possibly say to make you see where I'm coming from? Let's try this example.

Let's say you like to watch tele-evangelists who lay hands on people and make the lame walk and the blind see. You've seen it yourself. You watch the show. He goes around and heals people. Right there before your eyes. I could argue that this is TELEVISION, and if I had his resources and experience I could probably cook up a similar program that would be just as convincing, but then at the end of the program I could show everyone how I tricked you into thinking I was a healer. Of course, a good magician never reveals his secrets, unless of course you're Penn & Teller.

Let's say your favorite Tele-Evangelist presumes to have the Power of God in his fingertips. Has it ever occurred to you that if this was actually a valid way of healing people, that hospitals wouldn't need to exist? If this was really real, everyone would believe without question, and if anyone got sick they'd call up one of these guys. In fact, if any Christian has the power of God inside them once saved, why can't anyone heal anybody? Why does it have to be that guy in the suit with the microphone standing on the stage asking you to send him more money?

ANY miracle you see can be explained rationally, given enough time and resources to investigate the miraculous claim. There are no miracles. At most, there are physical processes that we don't understand yet, that science has yet to uncover, but there's a rational explanation for anything that happens in the universe.

Maybe you think that conventional medicine just wants to keep their business in check and go out of their way to discredit Men Of Faith with the Power to Heal. I assure you, if Jerry Lewis could hand his kids over to televangelists to heal for him, he woulda done it decades ago. In fact I bet he tried that because Jerry Lewis has been desperate all his adult life to save his Kids. What has he turned to instead? Science. Gene therapy. Research into the Genome Project. Progress is being made, not by putting your hands on a kid with muscular dystrophy, but rigidly strict trials and experimentation and research and testing. Science may not solve the Common Cold in our lifetime, but muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons and other diseases are not out of the realm of possibility for a cure within 20 years. We've also made great progress in combating cancer, again not through the power of any god but by using the scientific method to solve the puzzles of the universe.

Maybe you think the Healing of Hands only works for those who believe. It's a test of faith. No matter what I say, you're gonna see it the way you do. This isn't hate I feel. It's sadness. Cuz I used to think like you. Then I saw facts and science and logic and rational thought, and despite all these things I still clung desperately to my beliefs because I so badly wanted to believe in magic. I wanted to believe in miracles. I wanted to believe in a god that has a plan and yes some people suffer but they must so that they can become better for it. God doesn't hate you when he punishes you. He's molding and shaping you into something better, like you were a piece of clay. I so desperately wanted to believe this just as you do.

I feel like someone who has been drowning, but I just found a place in the maelstrom where I'm relatively secure, and I look back now and reach my hand out to the maelstrom trying to find others who need to be pulled from the dangers of belief and blind faith. Problem is, looks like most of you like drowning. You don't know you're drowning. You have been told the water is air. You think you're perfectly fine. I know. Cuz I used to think that too. And so I'm standing here at the shoreline trying to figure out how I can send you a life preserver that you won't reject, because you think life preservers look like crosses, or stars, or a hammer & sickle, or whatever. You've been lied to for so long, you think lie preservers ARE life preservers.

Again, I've studied history, and the only reason religion looks good in the eyes of some historical texts is cuz the people writing and editing those texts happened to adhere to the popular religion of the time. The Roman Catholic Church downplays things like the Spanish Inquisition, or the burning of 'Saint' Joan of Arc. However, throughout history the Church condoned or quietly allowed a lot of actions and transgressions against heathen in order to defend their own place of power in the hierarchy of society.

And let's face it, they had to if they wanted to stay in power. Anyone who owns a copyright of popular material today would agree. If you don't defend your copyright in the courts, you're going to lose your right to claim ownership. It can get mighty ugly. You may find yourself spending more money to defend your ownership of intellectual property than you can actually make with the intellectual property itself. The entire system sucks, but it's the only way to make an 'idea' valuable, and technically it doesn't really do that. I mean, you can't copyright ideas, just how they're presented. but I digress. That's a whole other blog post.

My point is, The Church in power has to assert its domination over nonbelievers. Otherwise, eventually the nonbelievers will win. Why? Cuz they're always right.

There is no god. Whatever religion you believe in is a lie. Sorry. I'm not gonna pacify you. I'm not going to tell you that your religion is different from all the rest. There are also no fairies, no ghosts, no souls, and no afterlife. It's all a sham, fabricated a very very long time ago by people who wanted to pacify other people who feared the unknown. They filled in the gaps with possibilities, elaborated and embellished on these possibilities, and eventually the really cool sounding ideas were adapted and adopted as real and actual when there's literally zero evidence supporting them whatsoever. It'd be nice if we all had souls. It'd be cool if there was life after death. It's heartwarming to believe those we love and have lost still exist somewhere. I was really looking forward to seeing my Dad again when I die. I won't. I can't. It just doesn't work that way.

However, I'm not a militant anything, so I'm not going to pick up a gun and shoot you for being a believer. You can continue to believe all you want, just as I will continue to KNOW.

I would like to think you'll respond in kind, and allow me to not believe, but history is not on my side. Religious zealots tend to eventually use violence against any influential opposition. Otherwise, The Truth Will Out.

You're not right in your beliefs, but take comfort in the fact that none of the other six and a half billion people on this planet are either. And neither am I. What I currently DO believe? And I now actively look for 'beliefs' I take for granted and challenge them when I find them, what I currently accept as correct about this universe is misinformed. I don't have all the answers any more than you do. However, I know which answers are incorrect. ALL of them.

Maybe someday we'll figure out a way to scientifically measure a soul. Maybe someday I'll be proven wrong and we'll learn that souls actually exist. We'll be able to metaphorically point at it and go "that's a soul." When that happens, I won't believe in a soul. I'll KNOW that souls exist, because I'll be able to replicate the experiment that proved souls exist and I'll be able to see for myself. The thing is, one should not operate outside of what is known. If you don't know something exists, behaving as if it does exist is counterproductive. A tightrope walker would not jump off the tightrope unless he knows there's a net underneath to catch him. He wouldn't just believe the net's there. He'd look down and make sure it is there. In fact if he's smart, he would have personally checked the net before starting his routine to be certain it was secure and would break his fall. That is the difference between believing and knowing.

Science is not the end all be all either. Something can come along later that will cause us to look at everything we take for granted now in an entirely new light. Gravity. Molecular structure. Weather patterns in a global atmosphere. Animal behavior. Pyrotechnics. Everything we think we know about how these things work could be wrong. This is why the scientific method is all about testing and retesting hypotheses. Though science uses words like "Law" they're really just descriptions of the results of tests that have not yet been disproven. They have only been proven repeatedly, and until something better comes along they are called Laws. In fact Sir Issac Newton's Law of Gravity has kinda been disproven by the Theory of Relativity, but Newton's description still works here on Earth, but not when you're looking at the entire breadth of the universe in relation to Earth and other things that are out there. It gets a bit more complicated than Newton postulated, but we still accept Newton's description because why fix a tire that's not flat? It still gets you where you need to go.

Religion fears change because the people in positions of power do not want to be usurped. Science embraces change. If someone could have come up with a valid way of proving the theory of Creationism, then believe me scientists would have dropped Evolution in a heartbeat. However, Creationism is not science. Intelligent design is just an attempt to rewrite religion to make it look like science, because if there's one thing religion is good at doing, it's learning to adapt and change to the needs of humanity, so that it can still appear to be productive and instrumental for the benefit of mankind.

If you can't adapt to the constantly changing landscape, you're gonna get Left Behind. Any con artist will tell you that. In fact, I think some of them already have. Like for example, the guy who wrote the Left Behind series of books.

You can call me militant if you want, but you use the word with about as meaning as Richard Pryor used the word "fucking." I'm not militant about anything. I never attended ROTC. I only spent one day in the boy scouts. I've never joined the armed forces, and had I, it woulda been as conscientious objector. I don't believe personally in wielding a gun, although I believe you have the right to choose to wield a gun. I just don't believe you have the right to fire it at another human being. Like, EVER. I believe you can carry around a thermonuclear warhead if you want, but you better have the safety on, just in case. Guns should only be fired in Chekov plays.

I don't believe religion to be demonstrably false. I know it is. I know it's wrong. I know it's dangerous. I know it hurts people. Yes it helps people too, but the ways it helps people could be done without the religious connotations. You Will Know Them By Their Works. Not by which god they aspire to appease. There's no need for gods to enter into any equation, unless one wants to stop by and order us all a round of drinks. It just better not be Kool Aid.


Anyway, all the bullshit above is just my roundabout way of saying I know I'm not a militant atheist, but I also know that's not gonna stop you from calling me one. Just as I know there's not a god, but that's not gonna stop you from choosing to believe in one anyway.

I really wish I was still ignorant. I wish I could still believe in things without proof. Really, the world appears to be much more magical and fanciful and all that, but it's not real. It's a facade. If you have to believe in something without proof, it means you are allowing yourself to know a lie as if it were truth, and why do any of us want that for ourselves, or our children? Why do we lie to our children about Santa Claus, and why do we lie to ourselves about Jesus Christ?

I want to destroy religion, but I don't want to do it with force. I want to use common sense. I don't want to fight fire with fire. I want to combat ignorance with truth. You can call me a militant atheist all you want, but it doesn't make me one. It doesn't make any atheist militant. I may be beligerent. I may be combative. I may be contentious. I may be a fanatic. However, I will never be violent. I will never use what I know to maim or kill believers. I like to think that means we atheists are taking the high road, cuz you zealots out there will draw first blood at the drop of a hat.

If history is any indication however, it also means you will win. Because throughout history, believers have won out over nonbelievers by silencing the opposition with brute force. Cut the tongues from the blasphemers. That's your answer to the argument. You know why? You can't win the argument without cheating.

You can't prove there's a god, so you make sure you're the last one still standing, and then who will there be to oppose you once you've silenced the argument through bloodshed? No one. You will stand alone, with the illusion of a god standing beside you to keep you company. I'm glad I won't be there to see that. But don't think that means I hate you. I pity you, and I pity the future of mankind when it comes to that, because it means the Dark Ages will have returned forever.

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