Sunday, August 19, 2007

Children of Reason

I have been thinking quite a bit about the type of world my children will inherit from us. It will be a world still filled with superstitious hatred and fear. Where people oppress and murder one another over whose imaginary friend is greater. It will be a world where people still despise one another for not adhering to principles and ideas whose foundations lie only in myth. Where fear and desire as manifested and exploited in books written by the deluded or the blatantly manipulative for the gullible and desperate still hold the power of life and death. It will be a world where even the most basic scientific principles, the age of the earth, evolution, the age of man, the origins of the universe are still challenged by the willful ignorance of those who would rather believe the impossible than accept the empirical. It will be a world where faith is still given equal weight as knowledge and invaluable scientific advancements such as stem cell research will continue to be halted by the faithful extrapalating sin from a book of mythology written by ignorant flat-earthers back when slavery, infanticide, matricide, and homophobia were considered perfectly ethical. It will be a book where logical common-sense morality will still be embattled with ignorant and barbaric dogma.

I fear for them. I fear for my children because of what others are teaching thier children. Right now there are Muslim parents teaching thier children that women who walk the streets alone with thier heads uncovered deserve to be raped and murdered or at the least, arrested. I fear for them because right now there are Christian parents teaching thier children that anyone who does not believe that a man rose from the dead two thousand years ago and ascended bodily into heaven will suffer eternal torment at the hands of an eternal father who is supposed to be all-loving. Because right now parents are teaching thier children that thier is virtue in filling the gaps in one's knowledge with whatever belief best appeals to thier cultural aesthetic. They are telling thier children that the same God who condones slavery, and wife abuse, and child murder, and the murder of homosexuals, and genocidal war is the only source of morality in the universe. I fear because these parents are the majority.

I will teach my children to reason. I will teach them to think and not merely to believe. I will teach them to be logical and skeptical and to not be content with not knowing, to always seek answers. I will teach them that there is no such thing as the "unknowable" only the unknown. I will teach them to value evidence and arguments and pure knowledge above any fantasies regardless of upon whose solemn authority they rest or how many others believe them or how desirable the fantasies may be or how beautifully they are described or how alienated you might feel for not embracing them. I will teach my children to be individuals. And that is why I am afraid.

I look at the Middle East where a strict interpretation of the Koran is observed and women have been reduced to mere property, where murder is common for even the most basic disagreements with the principles of the Koran. Homosexuals are sentenced to death as are adulterers, atheists, and anyone who leaves Islam for another religion. How much different would a strict observance of the Christian Bible look? Not much. Nearly all the Ten Commnadments reccomend the punishment of death for breaking them and it is the Old Testament that these Islamic countries base thier laws on which canonize the hanging of homosexuals instead of condemning it as those who reject the Old testament have done. It is the Old Testament that they base thier ideas of a "woman's place" on and why women have so little power in these countries and can be beaten, murdered, and imprisoned for what to men of reason appear trivial offenses or even virtues while in every country where the Old Testament has been "reinterpreted" or rejected women enjoy the basic human rights often denied them in strict religious communities. Is this what you would want for your daughters?

So, I fear for my daughters and my son, if reason does not at last prevail in this country. I am raising children of reason in the hopes that they will help to usher in a better life for all. It is too bad that they will have to go through hell to do it. Not the Christian hell but the hell of Christianity, that is unless some other competing religion, perhaps even Islam, succeedes in replacing Christianity in this country or destroying the country entirely. Either way, it is a bleak future the faithful shall leave us with.

Soldiers for Christ, young Jihadists, all over the world and in almost every religion they are preparing to defend thier mythology against the mythology of the "Others". Religious conflict is inevitable. It is inevitable that Christians will war with Muslims and Muslims will war with Hindus and Buddhists and seek to oppress and subjugate Jews and Christians. The very concept of "One True God" predetermines holy war between competing religions just as the very concept of sinners, blasphemers, and infidels, predisposes the faithful to hatred and intolerance. This world as we speak is being torn apart by religious wars in every corner of the globe. Our current war in Iraq is little more than a thinly veiled war against Islam. Politics did not send two planes into the World Trade Center. Faith did that. Politics has not led to the ceaseless wars between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, the endless wars in Ireland, in India, in Africa, all over the planet. Religion has done this and so it will continue until some religious leader somewhere decides to hasten his introduction with the creator and the destruction of "The Enemies of God" via a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon and human's cease to exist or we have rid ourselves of this nonsense and learned to think instead of dogmatically believing. This is our world, the world we are leaving to our children.

We live in a time now where the most powerful man in the world believes that the creator of the universe speaks to him directly. We live in a world where the man who holds the launch codes to America's entire nuclear arsenal believes in a rapture in which all the faithful will be whisked away to eternal paradise while the sinners remain to inherit a dying planet and that the first signs of this rapture will be natural disasters and world war and the death of countless millions. Yet we wonder why he didn't react quicker in New Orleans or why he does not pull our troops out of Iraq. He has already excepted and gleefully awaits the death of hundreds of millions. What does a few hundred thousand mean to him? And he is not alone. There are millions of people who believe this nonsense.

We live now in a world in which 48% of the American population believes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old because it says so in the bible. Where almost the same number believes that women were created from the rib of a man who was "created" 6,000 years ago just days after the creation of the earth itself. Which would mean that somehow man invented beer and domesticated the dog before the world was even created. And my children, as I do, will have to live side by side with these idiots. They will vote side by side with them, sit on juries with them, share public office with them, and every decision in regards to the future of this country and thus thier own future will be made with them.

I weep for humanity if we don't outgrow this childish nonsense and learn to love humanity and stand on our own two feet instead of leaning on imaginary parent figures. I weep for humanity if we continue to hate each other on the basis of our unquestioning belief in a book written when people still believed the earth was flat and demons caused diseases. But most of all, I weep for my children and hope they will help bring humanity a few steps closer from ridding itself of these infantile and destructive fantasies.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Atheism and Humanism

I found this very succinct and accurate description of Atheism which so closely mirrors my own beliefs that I had to post it. This is from The American Atheist website at :

"The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d (MD, 1963), to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord's Prayer in the public schools.

“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother's keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

To further clarify things, here's the most recent Humanist Manifesto:

"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone."

* Humanist Manifesto is a trademark of the American Humanist Association—© 2003 American Humanist Association

It is so difficult for me to understand how any rational human being could find fault in these ideas or find cause to think otherwise that I truly weep for humanity when I read this. To think of the mistrust, prejudice, hatred, and persecution suffered by atheists around the globe and then to read this makes me think that Sam Harris had it right and whatever it is that finally causes man's extinction (Nuclear War, Chemical or Biological Warfare or simple ignorance and complaceny) it will most likely come about as a result of religion. The only thing that scares me more than a nuclear weapon in the hands of a fundamentalist Christian is one in the hands of a Fundamentalist Muslim. Anyone who truly believes that there is life after death will devalue this life enough to make them a threat to everything we currently hold dear. Scares the hell out of me. Atheism and Humanism may just be our only hope.

In the past I have self-described as an Atheist, an Existentialist, an Epicurean, and a Hedonist and every combination thereof. Now I believe that Humanist probably best describes my viewpoint. And as a Humanist, it is difficult for me to look at the totality of human history and take seriously the claims of those who honestly believe that religion has anything valuable to offer humanity that is not outweighed a thousandfold by its damaging effects on morality, reason, and the future and quality of human life.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."