Shouting Into Darkness

Fuck the Apocalypse

Posted in Religion by Chris W. on May 14, 2011

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If you live in New York City, there’s a non-zero chance that you’ve come across some billboards that advertise May 21, 2011 as “Judgment Day.” Not the fun Judgment Day with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwartzenegger. This is Biblical Second Coming of Jesus, as according to Family Radio (a Christian broadcast station out of California) and their founder, Harold Camping.

I confess to never having listened to their station, as Christian Radio sounds as appealing to listen to as a garden rake on a chalkboard, so I don’t know if Mr. Camping encourages his followers to spread his gospel, but someone sure feels like getting the word out. These ads are everywhere, and a street team is descending upon New York City this weekend like a horde of locusts to scare the general populace into believing that their lives are about a week away from ending. All in the name of “loving thy neighbor.”

Before people get defensive, this isn’t going to be my usual whine-fest against religion. The issue doesn’t touch honest Christians who believe in doing good for others in the name of Christ. You Christians who look at the Book of Revelations as if it were “Pink Elephants on Parade,” not a literal depiction of the End of Days, you are off the hook this time. What I can’t stand are the small group of “fire-and-brimstone” Christians who want to make you afraid. They want you to feel bad about being human or want you to fear for your life and/or soul because some invisible clock that only they are somehow privy to is about to expire. I thought religion was supposed to inspire people, make them feel good about being alive, not ready to jump whenever someone shouts “Boo”.

To Family Radio’s credit, they aren’t bilking money out of people, just standing on street corners trying to pass out flyers to people walking out of a Starbucks. I’ve seen a lot worse out of people who are down with G-O-D. But make no mistake, this is self-aggrandizing at its core. It’s a common marketing trick to invent a problem if you can’t solve a pre-existing one. I can think of no better problem to have than total annihilation. That’s a problem that can’t be fixed by RonCo.

The company line is that the people trying to spread the message are “warning” the rest of us of the impending danger. How effective they are in this task is another tale, entirely. In an interview with today’s AMNY, Ija McDaniels, a Philadelphia resident that migrated to New York to help Family Radio’s cause, bragged,”I passed out 3,000 [pamphlets] today.” That’s good for her, but how many of those pamphlets found their way into a trash bin soon after leaving her line of sight? In the same story, Robert Fitzpatrick told the NY Daily News, “people who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.” His “understanding” of the End Times? May 21, 2011 is the date of Christ’s return because it occurs 7,000 years after the Great Flood that God sent to “reboot” humanity during the Old Testament. No other explanation, just “7,000 years seemed like a long enough time to wait for God to pull this stunt again.” If all these guys are doing are betting on big round numbers being winners, I’d like to introduce them to Nostradamus and his prediction that the world will end in the year 2000.

What I don’t get is this: if Jesus/God is returning, and the world is on the brink of ending, what can you do about it?! It’s not like preparing for a hurricane. Total Biblical Armageddon is a Royal Flush in the hands of the Almighty. Nothing beats it. If God wants to smite you, there are very few defensive strategies against that plan. And if this really is true, and Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the righteous and the wicked, wouldn’t it be blasphemy to try and “prepare” for it like you would a natural disaster? The only plausible way out is to do what these Christian wackos want you to do anyway and jump onto their ship, but wouldn’t God see through such a thinly-veiled plan to save your own ass? That only works for Roman Catholics, where all you have to do after a life of sin and depravity is say that you’re sorry at the last second and you get a seat in Heaven next to the virtuous old lady who never hurt a soul in her life. I guess Family Radio hope you’ll join the club on the “end of the world” special and then figure canceling the membership is not worth the hassle. Christian sects and gyms have a lot in common.

The end of the world, at least coming from Biblical causes, is perhaps the most overblown global threat that hasn’t yet made it into an Al Gore movie. A literal end-of-the-world is not something we have to worry about because, if it happens, there’s nothing that could be done about it. And we have enough problems to concern ourselves with to start thinking about the ones that are forever unsolvable. For example, the NYC spearhead of this movement is a retired MTA worker who spent $140k on ads. That’s $140,000 USD. Fuck the apocalypse; how does an MTA worker earn that much money and yet the service is still that shitty? This guy has more than a hundred grand to piss away on his own flawed superstition and I can only make the Staten Island Ferry at about a 50% success rate?!?

If there was ever a reason to want these nutjobs to be correct, that would be it.

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Twisting in the Wind: Quran Quran (Hungry Like the Wolf)

Posted in Ranting and Raving, Religion by Chris W. on September 8, 2010

I’m sensing a pattern here. “Twisting in the Wind” is turning into a place where I can chastise the general populace for talking about an issue that really doesn’t matter while offering up an opinion on said issue like everyone else is. It might as well be called “Hypocrite Corner.” But that doesn’t bother me, because as one lone voice quacking in the void, what I have to say is pretty inconsequential and, as a libertarian atheist, I feel I should record my thoughts on the issues of the day so that when the Cyborg Scientologist Nazis* take over the world, the Resistance can find this archive on an antiqued MacBook and learn that there was one person who lived in the Before Time who guided his life by logic and reason. I hope they find a book by Dawkins or Hitchens too; I don’t want to carry the hypo-thetical hopes and dreams of the last chance humanity has on my shoulders alone. I can barely get out of bed for work in the morning, after all.

The issue of the day again centers around the connection between Islam and 9/11, and how some people are exploiting that connection for their own gain. This time up, it’s Florida Pastor Terry Jones (no relation to the brilliant director/”Monty Python” member of the same name), who is organizing a protest against Islam by burning Qurans (the Muslim Holy Book) on Saturday, the 9th anniversary of 9/11. The announcement was almost instantly condemned by everyone who heard about it, and gained more media exposure when Gen. David Petraeus commented that the move might wind up endangering troops. Someday, someone will win the Nobel Prize for finally answering whether America hates the terrorists more or loves the troops more. Today, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg did his best Obama impression by commenting on the protest, even though it doesn’t affect him or any of his constituents (theoretically).

I want to get my position clear right from the start. I’m an atheist, so Christians protesting Islam is like a negative being multiplied by a positive (if you’ll forgive the middle-school math reference): it just cancels itself out. While these two groups start arguing about who has the better imaginary friend, I’ll stand on the sidelines reading a comic book. The reason why I’m writing about this issue is because it speaks to a statement I’ve tried to hold myself to: Confront Stupidity. Stupidity and intellectual laziness exist only when they are allowed to fester, like mold underneath a rock. When you expose it to the light, the mold will shrivel up and die. That’s why I can understand the conviction when people condemn this loony. It’s obviously stupid, obviously hate-driven, and the only moral way to attack this is with speech. I’m all for that. In fact, it’s why I’m writing this article, to do my part in confronting this bit of stupidity.

The cynical side of my brain thinks that this whole thing is a PR stunt, to get a little nub of infamy and maybe a few more followers as well. It makes a lot more sense than the wacko, hateful explanation that has already been offered: one big “Yay America, and Jesus, too!” ejaculation that would’ve been ignored if not for our modern culture’s pension for political correctness and moral grandstanding. This, like the Mosque issue I wrote before, is getting so much airplay because it’s easy to choose a side and have a strong moral conviction that you’re right, wrapping yourself in the protective ideological blanket of your choice – religion or cultural sensitivity.

While I loathe religion and over-sensitivity of any kind, Pastor Jones is in the wrong. His actions derivative from a hatred of Islam (or an overvaluing of Christianity) and doing more to advance agendas of hate here and abroad than any real discussion on the shortcomings of Islam. He claims Islam to be a religion of violence, and he combats this with more violence. Hard to spot any flaws in that plan. Now, it is true that Islam plays host to some pretty violent people who justify their actions through their faith, to the point where several in the media and politics are afraid to even make fun of the religion out of fear of losing their lives, but you don’t need to turn into that kind of monster to make your point.

This is the point where I fuck with everyone’s heads: Pastor Jones is clearly doing something wrong, stupid, and hateful. And he has the right to see it through.

Before people take up arms to accuse me of bigotry, hypocrisy, or whatever, let me explain. From my understanding of Freedom of Speech, and including some personal credos I’ll get to in a moment, Pastor Jones can go forth with his protest and cover it by invoking his Freedom of Speech. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has ruled time and again that Freedom of Speech does not extend to include Hate Speech. If someone wanted to make the argument that the Quran burning represents Hate Speech, I couldn’t stop him or her, and might even agree in the end.

It’s also true that this protest could be used to incite Anti-American sentiment abroad, and most likely will. You remember how much of a stink the Muslim community caused over a couple of cartoons of their prophet? Imagine how pissed they’d be when they find out that some cracker was burning their holy book! The phrase “poking the bear” comes to mind. But, while the news will most certainly reach the Middle East and paint a picture of institutionalized antagonism toward Islam, I would hope that the vast numbers of people counter-protesting the protest would be enough to show that not everyone’s on Pastor Jones’ side.

I turn again to the Penn Jillette quote I used to end the last “Twisting in the Wind” article: “If you don’t have the freedom to do stupid, ill-advised things, then you aren’t really free.” I believe that very heavily, and think it applies to this situation, even when the stupidity of one man and his 50 cronies has the potential to cause harm to people not associated with his stupidity. But Free Speech does not exist to protect popular speech; it exists to protect unpopular speech, and as unpopular as this protest is, I think it’s still constitutionally protected. By no means am I defending Pastor Jones or his reasons for burning books, but I am defending his right to do something completely stupid and be ostracized by anyone with a decent bone in their body.

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Twisting in the Wind: Mosque we Go On?

Posted in Ranting and Raving, Religion by Chris W. on August 30, 2010

Before the story disappears from the newspapers and becomes even less of an issue than it is now, I wanted to offer my take on the whole “mosque” situation that will only affect Lower Manhattan, but everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on. Even our Fearless Leader (unwisely) offered his two cents on the matter, despite the issue not affecting him and only giving his opponents another political thread to unravel. Like our president, this issue will not affect me personally, but it does affect the city I call home and I feel that I can offer a rational and fair view of the situation from the libertarian point of view.

Like most things in life, your position on whether a mosque should be built a few blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center, whose destruction was caused by Islamic radicals, will depend heavily on your own personal biases. If you feel that protecting the feelings of the victims of 9/11 and their families is more important, you’re overwhelmingly likely to oppose the mosque (although that is not the lone reason for opposition). On the flip side, if you look at the religious freedoms of Muslims as more important, then the mosque and its position probably isn’t that big of a deal to you. This is a situation where there is no “wrong” side of the argument, although the lines already drawn in the sand have served to bring up some very intense passions who believe that their position is “right.” In fact, this situation could and is being turned into a divisive issue that will decide elections in September and could potentially influence foreign views of America in countries where “compassion” is not the defining characteristic.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, I’ll offer my point of view, for what it’s worth.

For clarification, I go past the reconstruction at Ground Zero perhaps once a week. The experience is moving to say the least, to watch the wound caused by 9/11 to be, at least physically, made whole again. The emotional wound that the survivors and widows still suffer will never be closed, and that’s the real lasting effect of 9/11. It was a dark, sad day for the country and kick-started a conflict that has cost thousands of lives on both sides due to military action. But I blame that on leadership, both past and current, not on the attacks on the World Trade Center. The communal feeling, the country coming together to pick itself up when it was knocked down, that’s all gone. The very fact that I’m writing this is an indicator that we are more divisive than we’ve been for almost a century. The true lasting effect of 9/11 is the pain felt by those survivors and widows.

But that pain, no matter how much it breaks your heart for those who feel it, is an abstract concept. There’s no way to quantify it. Pain and suffering is a liquid concept, floating out in the ether of human consciousness. The freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution is very real. Black and white real, in fact. Unlike the hurt felt by the victims of 9/11, which we all understand, the First Amendment freedoms protect everyone, regardless of their creed and how popular (or unpopular) it is.

Supporters of the mosque put the proposed site up on a pedestal, claiming it is a symbol of the tolerance of America (something not shared by Islamic nations, ironically) and a sign that The Muslim community is reaching out to those who were harmed by followers of Islam. That sentiment is only half right. Is the Ground Zero Mosque a symbol of American tolerance? Maybe, considering that its presence in lower Manhattan would be a victory for private property owners doing business in the matter they saw fit, and possibly people putting aside differences to respect individual rights? But as a symbol of tolerance, of growth and understanding? My newspaper this morning spoke of protests and scuffles that broke out at the site over the weekend, both sides trying to demonize the other. Tolerance, that is not.

And a mosque so close to the site of the World Trade Center would certainly not be a symbol of the Muslim community reaching out a helping hand. When asked about the whole situation, Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul remarked that if the Muslim community really wanted to build bridges, they should donate to a relief fund for the victims, not try to muscle in on territory which is symbolically theirs, a sentiment I happen to agree with. To put it another way, if I wanted to be a good guest and honor you at your birthday party, graduation, retirement, whatever, I come over and and make the event about you, not try to take center-stage and do my Elvis impression (unless I was asked, in which case my jumpsuit just got back from the cleaners).

As much of a hardcore individualist as I am, this smacks of trying to plant your flag in the site, making it more about you and less about what’s really important. This is made evident by the constant refusal by those who are in charge of the project to even consider moving their mosque out of respect for the victims.

But again, I hate to use phrases like “symbolically theirs” and “respect” to make an argument when we have clear-cut tools like “dominion of private property” and “the First Amendment” to use. It all boils down to this: the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion covers everyone: Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, Satanists, everyone. And, if the owner of the building signed off in a private business deal with the Imam to make the mosque a reality and he was okay with it, then there’s no solid argument against the mosque to be had. Plain and simple. You can dislike it all you want, but unless new evidence comes to light, there is no legal blockage for this mosque that I can see.

Which brings us to the dividing line that so many arguments that get too much airtime often return to: Is it wrong? Technically, no. Is it ill-advised and stupid? Oh, hell yeah. To be honest, I can’t even believe why an Imam would want to subject himself to that kind of scrutiny unless he was being pressured externally. All you’re doing is painting a target on your back. The site would be plastered all over the news (which it has) and would become the focus of hatred, vandalism, and other bad mojo. Even worse, if you are a peace-loving Muslim, keeping the mosque there could easily do more to hurt your cause of promoting peace and acceptance. All because you appeared insensitive to the feelings of those harmed by others in your clique.

This is one of the things that distresses me about religion, or generally too much pride in one’s own background. You can be a Muslim, or a Pisces, or a Libertarian all you want and it doesn’t matter one bit because you should be a human first. Having the mosque that close to Ground Zero smacks of lacking basic human decorum and sensitivity. But, the moral and American stance to take is to just let it be. Respect the rights of the Muslims that commune there and hope that they have the decency to respect yours back. The Ground Zero Mosque may be beyond stupid, but as Penn Jillete said, “if you aren’t free to do really stupid stuff, than you aren’t really free.”

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Calendar Questions

Posted in Kooky Observations, Religion by Chris W. on September 3, 2008

I just today realized with full force, after reading a passage from Hey Rube by Hunter S. Thompson, that we are still using the Christian Calendar. We are In the Year of Our Lord 2008, and we don’t question it. For most of the world, this isn’t an issue because they’re already Christian, believe in Christ, etc. For them, this really is two thousand and eight years since the birth of their Messiah. I’d like to research what Muslim countries think this year is, and why, if they do call this 2008, they follow a calendar that celebrates a religious figure they do not buy?

The reason for the Christian Calendar is very obvious. The other 4,000 years that happened between Genesis and the birth of Christ are “not important.” Sure, some important stuff happened before then, but to Time, in the Christian sense, the world turns on Christ.

I often think it would be funny to live life by the Atheist Calendar. Science pegs the Earth at a few hundred million years old, so in conversation, I might start referring to that just to mess with people’s heads. Of course, the age of the earth doesn’t figure into “time” as we think of it now. We don’t know whether the Earth formed on a Tuesday in January or a Friday in August, or whether it was Daylight Savings Time. Maybe it was a Leap Year, too.

So, the Atheist Calendar would have to be approximate, not exact. The actual numbers don’t matter as much as the idea itself. I’d like to see the looks on people’s faces when I put the year 300,752,008 on a bank deposit notice. I figure the computer might do the same thing that the M5 did on that episode of “Star Trek”.

Ron Paul: The Evolution Denier

Posted in Political, Religion by Chris W. on December 28, 2007

This blog is a classic example of standing up for what you believe in, on both parts. Any regular reader of this post, or of this website in general, is aware of the fact that I am both an atheist and a libertarian. That means I’m practically on the fringe of political discourse in this country. Generally speaking, nobody wants to hear what the godless heathen has to say, but I do my part and vote because by involving myself in politics, I exercise my right to make myself heard regardless of my position. I’ve voted in the two major elections that have happened since I turned 18: the 2004 Presidential Election, and the 2006 Midterm Election. My only regret in those actions is voting for Kerry in 2004, simply because I was afraid of 4 more years of Bush (and fat lotta good that did me…) But since then, I’ve voted for what I believed in: less government, more freedom.

This brings me to the subject of Ron Paul. I’ve been watching a lot of the presidential candidates and felt that Paul is the mainstream candidate that I felt like throwing my support behind for right now.* He is a Republican, although his political views are very “old-school” Republican: no big government, no world-policing, and working to uphold Constitutional liberties. Sounds OK to me. However, there are some things that rub me the wrong way. First, I learned that he was against spending money on stem-cell research. At first, I didn’t like that position, but I’ve since started questioning my position and haven’t come up with an answer yet. Second, I heard some rumors floating around that he voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which I certainly didn’t agree with him on. Maybe it should be a states-rights issue, but until that gets sorted out, I’d like the government to keep that freedom afloat. Finally, he’s big on God. I’m not sure how much of a bible-thumper he is, but it’s enough to make him question the “theory” of evolution, as stated in this video.

I ask the question to myself: is it possible to separate the politics from the man? Can you support someone’s ideas but disagree with him or her personally? And to a greater extent, can you elect someone whose morals you disagree with, yet are otherwise politically congruent? I quote comedian Bobcat Golthwait (perhaps the only time he’s been mentioned in a political discussion) when he said “Voting for President is like shopping at an adult novelty store; you’re trying to find the dildo that will hurt the least.” For an atheist libertarian (and to a minor extent, everyone else) this is certainly true. Unless you yourself run for president, you’re probably going to disagree with something that the President says or does. So, let’s break this down logically: I can’t reject him simply because he’s religious, because there are no atheist candidates. The tipping point would therefore be if his religious views interfered with his “pro-freedom” politics. From what I’ve read, he prefers to keep hands off and lets the local governments decide if their schools should allow prayer or display religious symbols. He’s even proposed a bill that would allow students to privately pray in school if they so chose to, yet would not force students who chose not to pray to participate. His reading of the “separation of church and state” part of the Constitution is that the Constitution only prohibits the establishing of a national church, and that America was founded on religious principles. This sort of idea scares me, and his politics point towards a decrease in secularization, yet leaving the decision out of the government’s hands. However, as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any literature on how he feels about public schools teaching Creationism, which to me is a major issue.

It’s a very sticky situation, especially when you consider that you can debate someone’s politics and challenge their ideas on the role of government or constitutionality all you want, but it’s very difficult to debate morals or feelings. These things are not rooted in cognitive thought, but are instead snap judgements made through internal prejudices and psychological shortcuts built up through the years. It’s very difficult to change someone’s morals through debate, and any time you start debating morality or philosophy, it’s only a matter of time until the entire discussion stalls. Therefore, it’s certainly easier to support or get along with someone whom you agree with on a basic (i.e. non-cognitive) level, but disagree with on matters of politics, music, art, or whatever. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s certainly easier than people who agree on the same thing but for different reasons.

The question is always whether you’re electing a politician or a person. For the most part, the threshold of acceptable character traits varies from person to person. In the case of my support for Ron Paul, I have to say that his skepticism of evolution worries me that he’s the type of person who can’t separate his faith from his intelligence. I’m very troubled by his reading of the Constitution, but that could possibly be corrected in debate. I’m also afraid that putting so much power into the hands of local governments might result in little theocracies popping up, but that’s paranoid little me talking, and that idea can also be challenged with evidence. The thing that stops me from totally jumping off the bandwagon is that he’s volunteering less power for the President and more power for the people to guide their lives. Personally, I do see Ron Paul as both a politician and a person, the lawmaker and the private citizen. What he does or believes in the privacy of his home is of no concern to me, as long as it doesn’t affect his public judgement. I’m even okay with Bush being born-again; it’s when he starts talking to God instead of the people who fucking elected him that I have a problem. So while Ron Paul may deny evolution, I can see past it for the time being. I think he’s the gravest form of wrong you can be, but it doesn’t impact my view of him as a politician.

As always, I encourage discussion, so leave a comment and tear me a new asshole if you so chose.

P.S. For the argument against Paul’s reading of the Constitution, check this argument out, taken from the About.com page about atheism:
The exact words of the 1st Amendment are “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That’s it. Not a lot of words, but very important ones. People will argue that since the phrase “Separation of Church and State” never appears in the Constitution, it’s just a myth that we made up. But the proof is in the pudding. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While this means that the Government can’t make an official national religion, it also means that no one religion will be “respected” or have its tenants, morals, or ideals put on a pedestal above all the other ones. For example, if public school children were required to spend one minute to pray to Jesus instead of recite the pledge of allegiance, that would be a direct violation of the 1st Amendment, because Jesus cannot be privileged more than Moses, Abraham, Mohammed, or any of the other Judeo-Christian symbols. The second part comes in “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It would seem that as long as everyone prayed to some deity, no matter who it was, everyone could be legally religious without violating the 1st Amendment. However, it’s the word “free” in there that fucks with that idea. To freely exercise a religion, you have to chose who to pray to, when, where, how, and why. And, of course, the government can’t make you pray at all because that would involve stepping into the “free exercise” part of the sentence. Therefore, the government cannot legally tell you any of those three things without violating the 1st Amendment. With all this in mind, the 1st Amendment guarantees a secular, yet religiously free America, where you can chose where you want to practice and how, or to abstain totally. The government can’t make you respect or partake in any establishment of religion, nor can it tell you how to be religious.

* For the democratic side, I like candidate Mike Gravel. He’s also very libertarian-leaning, which is always a plus in my book. The only things are questionable about him are his views on teaching Creationism/school prayer, and his support of socialized medicine. Also, a classmate of mine was involved in a short movie about his absence at the Democratic Debate which can be viewed here. Very interesting stuff.

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Atheism for Kidz

Posted in Ranting and Raving, Religion by Chris W. on December 1, 2007

I wanted to note this little incident I picked up on the Internet, before the whole thing gets swept under the rug. It’s this sort of lunacy that makes me glad that I’m no longer a Catholic.
There’s a movie opening up in a few days called The Golden Compass. I hear that it’s based on a kids book with fantasy elements, similar to Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia. Now, I wasn’t interested in this film one bit, until I read a news post on IMDB.com, my go-to site for movie shit. (Beats the double XL pants off “Ain’t it Cool News”). There, I noticed that The Golden Compass was being denounced by the Catholic League as being anti-religion. The specific quote was, “If you want to introduce your kids to atheism, see this movie.”

That phrase got my man-panties in a wad. Introduce any other point of view into that sentence, and it automatically deflates and makes no sense. Would anyone warn you about introducing Judaism to your kids? Or Islam? Or Liberalism? What’s so fucking scary about atheism? Do they think we’re the gatekeepers, luring unsuspecting toddlers into a world of deviant sex and animal sacrifice?

My theory is that atheists like myself (and more public atheists like Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Tom Leykis, etc.) represent the scariest thing to a bible-wired Catholic. We represent life without their God, and not only that, but a happy, fulfilling, and productive life. Most Catholics who fear God like children fear monsters under their bed believe in their hearts that God makes them good, and if you don’t accept God and/or Jesus Christ into your soul, and even denounce them publicly, then you are automatically an evil person who will spend the rest of your life doing evil things, or eternally miserable with no substance or guidance in your life. They point to Stalin and Hitler as proof that atheism leads to a lack of morality. By the sheer fact that I am not a convicted criminal (nor have I ever broken so much as a traffic law in my life) and feel that I’m in a decent place for a 21-year-old to be in is dangerous to a hardcore Catholic. To them, we represent the death of their concepts, the idea that everything they base their lives on may be, and possibly is, wrong.

I’ve seen the doofus from the Catholic League before on Penn & Teller’s show and he seems like one hell (pun definitely intended) of a troublemaker. He’s also come out against South Park and other mainstream media that disagrees with his point of view. If he had a bomb strapped to his waist, he’d be a one-man al-Qaeda. Granted, the point has been made that this man and the organization he runs with his wife do not speak for all Catholics everywhere (they’ve already got a guy for that. He’s from Germany and wears a funny hat.) but it doesn’t stop him from being one annoying motherfucker. I’m sure he complained that Prince’s guitar was too phallic during the last Super Bowl as well…

We live in a marketplace of ideas, and unless you plan on keeping your kid locked in your basement like Brendan Frasier in that movie from 1996, they’re going to meet someone with a dissenting point of view. Instead of being afraid of ideas that are different from yours, challenge them head-on. Consider their arguments, and if you find them lacking, bring the hard evidence to knock them down. We all have to live with each other, and even though the Catholic League cockbite wants your child to not know an atheist until they come to your church with a burning cross and a Marilyn Manson CD, this world would be a lot less scary if we at least understood why other people think differently than we do.

UPDATE: I read again on IMDB that another prominent Catholic organization, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has retracted a positive review of The Golden Compass from its website. The review had previously appeared in Catholic newspapers across the country, sort of like an Associated Press for wackos. No reasons in the IMDB article were given as to why the review was taken down, and I’m trying like hell to see what was so egregious that it deserved to be deleted from all consciousness. If you read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, he states that it’s not the first time that this has happened with religious institutions, so I smell a little bit of a rat. The Conference of Catholic Bishops has now jumped on the bandwagon and is decrying the film and book series as being anti-religion. Again, if anyone can tell me why it’s such a big deal to champion atheism (as the film supposedly does), I’d like to hear the argument.

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Evolution Rant and Atheism

Posted in Kooky Observations, Religion by Chris W. on June 5, 2007

Here’s a thought I’d like to throw out to anyone reading this, and then I’ll rant about a topic near and dear to me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

When I got back home last month for my one week vacation, I went out to a local bar with my family (Randy’s Up the River in Olean, NY). I had a great time seeing family members I hadn’t seen since Christmas, and I also got to meet my uncle’s new girlfriend. She was a nice enough person, had a refreshing candor that I haven’t seen in a while, and we got to talking about morals and ethics in science (She is a scientist, and thus qualified to speak on the topic. I am not a scientist, but I did watch a lot of Beakman’s World growing up.) We were in agreement that religious leaders are standing in the way of scientific progress in regard to stem cells and other developments that are pushing back the influence of religion. At this point, I revealed to her (the first one in my extended family to hear this) that I’m an atheist. This is where the topic turned to the subject of evolution. She argued that she couldn’t call herself an atheist because she believed that we humans as we are right now are not the final stage of evolution in the human race, so there has to be something out there that is yet to be revealed (She stopped short of calling this Intelligent Design) and so there are some things about the nature of humans and of life that are unknown to us. With that in mind, she could not endorse atheism because atheism implies a knowledge (or a belief of knowledge) of what is beyond the physical world, and we simply just don’t know.

Now, here’s where I throw it out to you. I agree with her in the sense that our current state is not the end of the line for evolution; it can’t be. However, evolution does not walk a beaten path set for it by an intelligent creator or any other force. Evolution creates its own path to walk, and our current state is just one footstep, with countless more following. However, because there is something beyond our knowledge doesn’t mean that it puts it into the realm of God or whatever; we still don’t have a cure for the common cold, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a result of God’s intervention or that the answer lies with God. This is especially not the case with evolution. The variables and mutations that advance the species may be random, but natural selection is not. A mutation that aids survival will survive, and survival is heavily dependent on the environment, but it’s impossible to tell where that next mutation will come from. In this sense, there is no way to chart out where evolution is going. We will only know once we get there. A process as slow as evolution can’t be guided with precision, especially two or three steps down the line; it’s just too random. Even two humans who possess a gene that would lead to offspring with mental retardation don’t get an afflicted child every time.* The truth is, we are all walking the evolutionary walk together, and holding onto a flashlight that can only illuminate the darkness ahead of us a tiny bit. And there are no road signs or bread crumbs or divine intervention to guide us.**

I’m interested to hear what you have to say about this. So if you feel so inclined, please leave a comment: it doesn’t cost anything, and in some states, it’s tax deductible!***

Now, onto the next topic. Part of the reason I wrote this blog is because I realized that my admission of atheism caused my uncle’s girlfriend to ask for an explanation. It didn’t bother me much at the time, as I’m sure anybody I talked to from my hometown would’ve asked for an explanation, since atheism isn’t considered part of the norm. However, what got me going is when I was perusing iTunes and came across and audiobook (End of Faith, I believe it was) and saw a user defend his or her decision to not be an atheist because he/she, and I’m paraphrasing, “couldn’t accept the fact that I am a biological accident.”

The phrase “biological accident” stuck in my craw. Of course if you view life in that regard, it’s going to bum you right out. People like having meaning in their life, that God or whatever has a purpose for all humans (and to some people, that purpose is flying planes into buildings) and without God, life is meaningless. If this is your worldview, that’s your choice and I have no purpose trying to thrust my worldview onto you. However, in my defense, I can say that it is possible to alter this worldview, and several people who grew up in religious environments and have since become atheists do it. I choose to look at my life not as an accident, or the random assembling of atoms and matter that produce a 5’10”-tall man with brown hair and blue/green eyes. My life is what I make it. It’s my choice to live in the pursuit of happiness from my family and my flesh and blood friends, instead of an invisible friend that says that this life is nothing more than an interim or a warm-up for the afterlife, which isn’t proven, and sex before marriage, masturbation, condom use, homosexuality, and working on Sunday are offenses so great that they’re unforgivable. I find that my life is extremely precious to me, since there were great odds that I wouldn’t be created (after all, there was a chain of events that had to occur without fail in order to produce my conception and birth) and the fact that I am alive today at all is exhilarating.

Life isn’t an accident if I don’t make it an accident. You don’t need to be created by God or have a responsibility to Him in order to have a fulfilling existence. I choose not to believe in God because I don’t feel God is responsible for my life; I am. I live for this life because it will never come again, and living for a hypothetical afterlife is a waste of my resources. Pride in life, not the blind faith of religion, is a virtue to me. It obviously can be depressing to think that life ends after 80 or so years on the planet, or for some even sooner. But what this says to me is that I’ve only got so much time, and I might as well enjoy it because tomorrow it could all be gone, and when my time comes, I’d much rather look back at my existence and take pride that it was all worth it, that I knew people whose love meant more to me than God’s, and accomplished things out of my own virtue. Life without God can be and is a beautiful prospect, with much more vidid colors and sounds, marveling at the glory of nature and the idea that the world exists just to exist, and not to appease anybody or anything.

That is why I’m an atheist.
*For those interested, you can find this really cool study  here
**I know I’m going to get people explaining how God fits into these scenarios. If this is your argument, that’s cool, but consider if it falls under the what I call the “Superman Argument”. Essentially, the Superman Argument goes something like this:

Debater 1: So you’re saying that Superman could fly through the core of a star and still come out unharmed? How is that physically possible? Not only is there no air in space, but the heat generated by even the outermost edges of the sun is enough to evaporate anything that gets near it! He’d pop like a popcorn kernel! And no known object in the history of the world has been able to completely penetrate a star. Explain yourself.
Debater 2: Well… he can do anything! He’s Superman!

Okay, maybe the metaphor isn’t the best, but the point is the same. God arguments are normally circular and internally contained, beginning and ending with themselves. If “God can do anything” is your best argument, then my counter will have to be “So can Superman.”

***Just to clarify, I’m joking. I know most people are aware of that, but if some yokel blames me for why he’s going to jail for 10 years due to tax fraud, I wanna cover my ass.

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